Tazria: from alpha man to caring husband
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has a nice d’var torah on Parshat Tazria. Why is circumcision a sign of the covenant? First, he tells a bit about life during the time of Hosea:
Hosea lived in the eighth century BCE. The kingdom had been divided since the death of Solomon. The northern kingdom in particular, where Hosea lived, had lapsed after a period of peace and prosperity into lawlessness, idolatry and chaos. Between 747 and 732 BCE there were no less than five kings, the result of a series of intrigues and bloody struggles for power. The people, too, had become lax: “There is no faithfulness or kindness, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, killing, stealing and committing adultery; they break all bounds and murder follows murder” (Hos. 4: 1-2).
He then contrasts the word Ba’al, which means husband in Hebrew but also refers to the idol of those times, with the word Ish.
[Ba’al] was also, of course, the name of the Canaanite god – whose prophets Elijah had challenged in the famous confrontation at Mount Carmel. Baal (otherwise known as Hadad, and usually portrayed as a bull) was the god of the storm, who defeated Mot, the god of sterility and death. Baal was the rain that impregnated the earth and made it fertile. In terms of myth, Baalism is the worship of god-as-power.
In contrast, Ish(man) and Ishah(woman) are explained:
Here the male-female relationship is predicated on something quite other than power and dominance, ownership and control. Man and woman confront one another in sameness and difference. Each is an image of the other, yet each is separate and distinct. The only relationship able to bind them together without the use of force is marriage-as-covenant – a bond of mutual loyalty and trust in which each makes a pledge to the other to honour one another and the reciprocal duties that bind them together in a moral bond.
Now we understand why the sign of the covenant is circumcision. For faith to be more than the worship of power, it must affect the most intimate relationship between men and women. In a society founded on covenant, male-female relationships must be built on something other and gentler than male dominance, masculine power, sexual desire and the drive to own, control, possess. Baal must become ish. The alpha male must become caring husband. Sex must be sanctified and tempered by mutual respect. The sexual drive must be circumcised and circumscribed so that it no longer seeks to possess and is instead content to love.
Aside from me: so does this mean in Birkat HaMazon, the blessing after meals, I can say “Ishee instead of Baalee”? (Both mean my husband)
Cross-posted to Congregation Etz Ahaim’s forum (thank you, David Weintraub, for providing our community with another
toy means of communication)