Rabbi Avremel Matusof
This week I attended a COVID-era Brit Milah. You'd think that being limited to having just the family and mohel in attendance would dampen the celebration. Not so. Dozens of friends and family participated via Zoom, and the celebratory ambiance and emotion in the room when the child was inducted into the covenant of Abraham were as powerful and intense as any Brit I attended.
The secret to our ability to infuse even the most toned-down celebration of this important milestone is rooted in the fact that our heritage transcends all limitations of time and space. From the beginning of our nationhood, we were told that the Torah and all of its 613 Mitzvot are the heritage of every Jew no matter where they may be or how much they know. And this small Brit was no different.
It reminded me of a story told about the Rambam, the famed 12th-century Jewish sage known as Maimonides. As the personal physician of the Egyptian sultan, he enjoyed much honor in the royal court and his anti-Semitic colleagues sought ways to get rid of him. As it so happened, one of the king's closest advisors spun a convincing libel accusing Rambam of treason, and the king agreed that he needed to be executed.
However, due to his great love and admiration for his wise physician, he sought to find a roundabout way to arrange Rambam's death. The same advisor suggested that the attendant of the royal lime pit be told that the first person to approach him with the message "Have you carried out the king's orders?" should be thrown into the lime pit immediately. The king would then send Rambam to deliver this message to the lime pit attendant, and Rambam would meet his end without a public scandal.
The king agreed to the plan and sent the Rambam on the suicide mission the next day. As the Rambam made his way on foot towards the lime pit, which was a fair distance from the palace, he was approached by a Jew who desperately needed a Mohel to perform a brit on his eight-day-old son and requested of him to please be the mohel for his son.
Rambam reasoned that although he was on a mission from the sultan, surely the commandment of G-d the King of all Kings was more important, and he detoured to the Jew's house where there was a small crowd assembled. After performing the Brit, the host insisted he stay for the joyous feast and honored him with reciting the grace after meals on a large glass of wine. Thus the Rambam was delayed for an extended period of time from delivering the message from the sultan.
Meanwhile, the anti-Semitic minister was overjoyed at having signed Rambam's death sentence, and he wanted to see the burning embers of his nemesis. Calculating that Rambam had sufficient time to reach the lime pit, he himself went to the lime pit and innocently asked the attendant if he had fulfilled the king's orders. To his horror, the man lifted him up and thrust him to his death on the spot.
When Rambam finally reached the lime pit, he realized the great miracle that had occurred in the merit of performing the Brit.
Rambam's greatest contribution to Judaism was to make every mitzvah in the Torah accessible to every Jew. He authored a digest of all the 613 Mitzvot called Sefer Hamitzvot. In 1984, the Rebbe introduced a novel study cycle of Maimonides' great work on Jewish law and incorporated an easy-to-follow system of learning all 613 Mitzvot in under a year. Last week, millions of Jews around the world completed the 39th cycle and began studying for the 40th cycle.
You can join the movement and take hold of your heritage by committing a few minutes each day to study, and by next summer you will be familiar with all 613 Mitzvot!
You can go online for easy-to-read overviews, audio and video classes, and a daily email straight to your inbox. There is even an app for it! Visit www.ChabadMadison.com/RambamStudy for these tremendous resources that can assist you in studying all the Mitzvot, one at a time.
Rabbi Avremel Matusof is a Madison native. He received his rabbinic ordination at the Rabbinic Talmudic College in NYC. Rabbi Avremel has traveled extensively to bring hope and direction to smaller communities, including: Namibia, Ghana, China, Dominica, and Kauai, Hawaii. He moved back to the area with his wife, Chaya Mushka in the summer of 2011 as Director of the Young Jewish Professionals program (a Chabad of Madison affiliate), serving the growing professional population of the area.