When the Jewish People do not keep the covenant of circumcision, the nations of the world dominate them. (Tikunei Zohar, Tikun 13)

One who guards the covenants of circumcision [yesod of Zeir Anpin] and of Torah1 [yesod of Abba] will be protected by both of these convenants, by [circumcision] in this world [corresponding to malchut, which receives from yesod of Zeir Anpin] and by the other [Torah] in the World to Come [corresponding to bina, which receives from yesod Abba]. (Kisei Melech, Tikunei Zohar, end Tikun 13) "BeReiShIT", meaning In the beginning, can be rearranged to form the words covenant of fire

[The letters of the Hebrew word] BeReiShIT [meaning "In the beginning" (Gen. 1:1)] can be rearranged to form the words BRIT AiSh [meaning "covenant of fire"], the sign upon which both the higher and lower worlds exist [as the verse states, "If not for My covenant of circumcision2, I would not have established day and night and the laws of heaven and earth." (Jeremiah 33:25)] Alternatively, the "covenant of fire" will protect him from the fires of Purgatory. (Tikunei Zohar, Tikun 22; Tikun 3)

When a person guards the covenant, regarding the son that the Holy One will give him, the verse states, "And G‑d caused to sprout from the ground every tree that was pleasing to the sight…" (Gen. 2:9) for he will merit [to understand] the secrets of the Torah. (Tikunei Zohar, Tikun 53)

The second mitzvah with which the fear of G‑d is united and from which it is never separated is [the mitzvah] of loving [G‑d]. The bird cannot soar aloft with only one wing…

In his Introduction to the Zohar, Rabbi Shimon lists and discusses the 613 commandments. The first commandment is awe or fear of G‑d; the second, love of G‑d. Elsewhere the Zohar explains that love and awe of G‑d are inseparable, for they are compared to the two wings of a bird. The bird cannot soar aloft with only one wing.3

A person should love G‑d with an absolute [literally "great"] love which is called "infinite". [Regarding this G‑d told Abraham,] "Walk before Me and be perfect". (Gen. 17:1)

After fulfilling the mitzvah of circumcision, Abraham would attain the level of absolute, perfect love. A person should love his Master fully…

Regarding this it is written, "And G‑d said, 'Let there be light'". (Gen. 1:3) This absolute love, called "infinite love", is a mitzvah. A person should love his Master fully.

There are two kinds of love: conditional and unconditional. The former is a response to the goodness with which G‑d bestows upon a person. This was the type of love which Noah had for G‑d. It was a direct result of the goodness and kindness which G‑d showered upon him. Regarding this the Torah states:

"Noah walked with G‑d." [i.e., with G‑d's help]4. This love is regarded as incomplete and conditional, for it depends on G‑d's display of magnanimity. Abraham's love for G‑d, by contrast, was not a product of G‑d's benevolence. It was perfect and unconditional love. Accordingly the verse states, "Walk before Me [without My help] and be perfect [in your love for Me]" (Sulam, Zohar I, 11b)

Note that the mitzvah of circumcision is comprised of two parts: (1) to be circumcised and (2) not to be an uncircumcised. Accordingly, one who was born naturally circumcised is still regarded as an arel and requires a procedure known as hatafat dam brit.5

Rabbi Abba said, "Come and see. After Abraham was circumcised and he was no longer as one uncircumcised, he entered the holy covenant, became crowned with holiness and entered the foundation upon which the world stands. He became the righteous person upon whose merit the entire world exists, as in the verse, "And a righteous man is the foundation of the world". (Proverbs 10:25)

Then the world was sustained in his merit, as it is written "If not for My covenant [of circumcision (that the verse refers to circumcision (see Mishna Nedarim 3:11))], I would not have established day and night, and the laws of heaven and earth." (Jer. 33:25) Therefore concerning creation it is written, "These are the products of the heaven and the earth when they were created (in Hebrew, BHaBaRAM)". (Gen. 2:4) The word "BHaBaRAM" has the identical letters as "B'ABRaHaM", meaning "with Abraham", for in his merit the world was sustained. (See Shabbat 137b, Zohar I, 91b) According to Jewish tradition Elijah attends every circumcision, and this is why…

In the circumcision ceremony, the baby is placed on a chair which has been set aside as "the Chair of Eliyahu" just prior to the circumcision. In most communities today the mohel (person performing the circumcision) designates the chair and says out loud, "this is the chair of Eliyahu" as he places the baby upon it for a few seconds.

Rabbi Abba said: When a man brings his son into the covenant [of circumcision] the Holy One calls His heavenly entourage [of angels] and says to them, "Come and look at what my sons are doing in the world." At that moment Elijah [the angel of the covenant] swoops down there in four leaps [Elijah did not die but rose up in a whirlwind to heaven (Berachot 4b, Kings II 2:11) and became the angel of the covenant.] For this reason we have been taught6 that one must prepare a chair in Elijah's honor, and should say, "this is the chair of Elijah." If he does not do this, then Elijah does not dwell there. Then he [Elijah] ascends to the Holy One and testifies before Him.

See now that first it is written (Kings I 19:9 ff.) that G‑d says to the Prophet Elijah, who had secluded himself in a cave, "Elijah, what are you doing here [instead of remaining among the people - see Malbim on the verse - where you belong?]" Then it is written "I have been very zealous for the Lord, G‑d of Hosts, for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant..." [by failing to circumcise their sons. (Cf. Radak)] G‑d replied, "I vow that whenever My children make this sign in their flesh [i.e., whenever there is a circumcision] you will be present, and the mouth which testified that the Jewish people have abandoned My covenant will testify that they are keeping it."

Thus we learn (Shir HaShirim Rabba 1) that Elijah was punished by the Holy One for villifying the Jewish people [and he was given the opportunity to rectify his error by testifying in their favor and to their credit; namely, that they keep the covenant. (Ohr HaChamah by the Ramak) For this reason Elijah must be present at every circumcision.] Holiness does not dwell upon a person while he is uncircumcised…

Rabbi Abba said: Happy are the Jewish people whom G‑d chose from among all the nations and gave them this sign of the covenant [of circumcision]. Whoever has this sign [sealed in his flesh] will not descend to Gehinom, if he guarded it properly and did not place it in another person's domain. [Apparently a euphemism for adultery. However, other interpretations may also be intended. See Eruvin 19a.](Zohar I, 93a)

As long as a person bears the mark of this holy sign [the covenant of circumcision], from it he perceives the Holy One, blessed be He - from it literally! [This is because only when a man is circumcised can] he be imbued with a holy soul [that is part of G‑d above… (See Tanya, Chapter 2)]. If he is worthy and guards it the covenant, the Shechinah will not depart from him… (Zohar I, 94a)

"When Abram was ninety-nine years old, G‑d appeared to Abram." (Gen. 17:1) This verse needs examination, for it presents several difficulties. Had the Holy One not revealed Himself to Abraham until now? Did G‑d reveal Himself to him only when Abraham reached this age? It is written [previously], "G‑d spoke to Abram" (Gen. 12:1) "G‑d said to Abram," (Gen. 13:14) "And He said to Abram, 'Know for sure...' (Gen. 15:13) [and so on]! [Moreover] now a specific age is mentioned in connection with which the verse states that G‑d appeared to Abram [implying that only when Abram was ninety-nine years old, did G‑d appear to him…]

[Note: Since the words "And G‑d appeared to Abram" are not mentioned at the beginning of the verse, as almost everywhere else, but in the middle of it, after his age was stated, this indicates that Abram's age was the reason that G‑d was revealed to him. (Ziv HaZohar)]

…From this we understand that until this point G‑d did not appear to him. However, this is what we have learned: Prior to this it was not written that G‑d appeared to him, for as long as he was uncircumcised the Holy One did not appear to him fully…

[Note: Although the identical phrase is used prior to this, (see 12:7) nevertheless, this was a lower level of revelation, from the sefira of malchut. Here, however, the five aspects of chesed were revealed, as will become evident in the text further on. These are alluded to in the additional letter hei (having the numerical value of 5) which was added to Abram's name, making Abraham. Accordingly, this was the first full revelation. (Mikdash Melech)]

…Now He appeared to him because He wished to reveal the crown of holiness [circumcision], and the Holy One wanted to produce holy seed [Isaac] from him. Although holiness does not dwell upon a person while he is uncircumcised, now that he was ninety-nine years old, and would soon produce holy offspring, G‑d wanted Abram himself to be holy, prior to producing holy offspring. (Zohar I, 95a)

To continue on to part 2, please click here.

[Translation and commentary by Moshe Miller.]