By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Yevamos 71 – Every Jew is a Priceless Diamond
Rabi Akiva derives the prohibition of an uncircumcised Kohein eating terumah from the double lashon of “ish, ish”. Therefore, we need to know how he is going to explain the toshav and sachir whom the pasuk says are not allowed to eat korban Pesach. A suggestion is made: it is referring to a circumcised Arab or Givoni. This suggestion is immediately rejected, though. Why? Because circumcised Goyim are still called areilim, and uncircumcised Jews are still called mulim.
Now, it is not too difficult to understand why a circumcised Goy could nevertheless be known as an areil. After all, he has no mitzvah of bris milah (at least according to most Rishonim; and even according to the Rambam, it is only Bnei Keturah that have the obligation, and Arabs only by “default” because they got mixed in with Bnei Keturah). So, when he cuts off his foreskin he is not creating any new reality called milah (in yeshivisheh parlance, there is no chalos). But why should a Jew who has not yet been circumcised be called a mahul – someone who is circumcised?
True, Rashi explains that m’doraysoh he is in fact called an areil – as is clear from the whole sugyah which is dealing with the prohibition of an areil eating terumah and korban Pesach – and that it is only by the benchmark of lashon bnei adam that an uncircumcised Jew is nevertheless called a mahul. But, still, that deserves an explanation; particularly so, seeing that all over Shas we find that Chazal ascribe strong significance to common Jewish sayings. Furthermore, it is clear from the Gemara in Avodah Zarah (27a) that an uncircumcised Jew is considered a mahul even m’doraysoh when it comes to other halachos of the Torah. Yet further increasing the enigma of this matter is that the Gemara over there in Avodah Zarah says that even Jewish women are as if mahul!
So what does this all mean?
There is a comment of the Maharshdam (Yoreh Deiah, siman 188) that sheds a lot of light on this matter:
Even when Yisraelim are in a state of tumah they are called tehorim because tumah is unnatural and merely coincidental for them. That is why it says (in the pasuk) “ha’shochein itam”, and Rashi explains “even if they are t’mei’im the Shechina is amongst them.” Why is that? Obviously for the reason that we just said, because tumah for Yisrael is completely unnatural and coincidental. That is why even when they are in a state of tumah their essential name of tehorim remains with them…and a Yisrael areil is called mahul.
From these words of the Maharshdam it is apparent that bris milah is not merely a mitvah to cut off a piece of skin and that’s it. Rather, it is indicative of a state of purity. That state of purity is inborn and inherent, but we are commanded and afforded the opportunity to bring out that internal goodness by giving it physical expression. That is why a Jew is called a mahul even while he still has his foreskin, because the removal of the foreskin is really just the outermost manifestation of his inner, essential reality of being a mahul.
I once heard a thought that perfectly expresses this idea: “Every Jew is a diamond, it is just a matter of how much polishing he still needs.”
The ramifications of this are enormous. It means that no matter where a Jew may find himself, or no matter how deeply entrenched in sin he may be, his essential core of purity and goodness remains forever untouched. He may be covered by many layers of soil and soot, but inside he is still the same priceless diamond. All he needs is some cleaning and polishing, and his natural beauty will shine forth with its full, sparkling brilliance.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. Driven by a passion to generate true kinyan Torah, both for himself and others, Rabbi Berman develops innovative tools to getting the most out of what we learn. In addition to having authored the warmly acclaimed Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim whose topics range from Halacha to Hashkafa, sends out daily emails of comprehensive chazara questions for the advanced Daf Yomi learner who really wants to retain his learning, and weekly emails of words of inspiration based on the Parsha. For more information on Reflections, to subscribe to receive these emails, or request a speaking engagement, Rabbi Berman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.