The Progression from Impurity to Holiness
The Torah portion of Acharei-Kedoshim discusses the laws of orlah. When the Jewish People plant fruit trees in the Land of Israel, the fruits of those trees are forbidden for the first three years, and are referred to as orlah, literally "foreskin." In the fourth year, the fruits must be brought up to Jerusalem, where they are eaten in purity and with praise of God. Only in the fifth year may the fruits be eaten freely in any location. God promises that if this commandment is kept, He will shower abundance upon the Jewish People.
Kabbalah and Chassidut point out that the three-stage status of the fruit forms a progression:
The first three years, when the fruit is considered orlah, correspond to the three impure shells that cover all unholiness in the world. These shells are the foreskin of the fruit, and render them forbidden for eternity.
In the fourth year, the fruit is still limited, and must be eaten in a specific place in a specific manner.
In the fifth year, the fruit is essentially good and holy. It can now be eaten with praise of God anywhere. The fruit itself has transformed to a source of infinite blessing.
The Foreskin of the Tree and of the Flesh
The word for the first three years of the fruit, orlah, is identical to the word used for the foreskin of the uncircumcised baby. This points to a parallel model between these commandments.
The Torah commands us to circumcise the foreskin of a male child when he is eight days old. There are two stages to the circumcision process:
Milah, in which the coarse visible foreskin is removed.
Pri'ah, in which the translucent membrane is removed, revealing the crown of the brit, ("covenant") with God, as physically manifest in the male child.
Overt and Unconscious Evil
In Kabbalah and Chassidut it is explained that the stage of milah corresponds to the overt evil in the soul. The second stage of circumcision, pri'ah, corresponds to the unconscious evil in the soul--the nearly transparent layer of egocentricity that can motivate even our good deeds. Our sages teach that in order to truly serve God, both stages of circumcision must be performed. If one performs only the first stage, he has done nothing.
(There are also non Jews, notably Moslems, who practice circumcision as a religious obligation. However, the Moslems perform only the first stage of circumcision, milah, and leave the thin membrane of the foreskin intact).
The two stages of removal of both the overt and unconscious evil correspond to the verse in Psalms (34:15), "Remove yourself from evil and do good." First, all conscious evil must be banished from our lives. This can be accomplished through our own ethical strength. We can then devote ourselves to truly and freely doing good, the ultimate purpose of every Jew and every person on earth. The good will not flow, however, unless the thin membrane of unconscious evil is removed as well. For this stage of circumcision, we need Divine inspiration to redeem and reveal our sanctity, and to acquire the power of infinity--the gift of bringing new holy souls down to the world.
The Progression from Impure to Holy in Trees
The basic model of circumcision is reflected in trees as well. When we abstain from the fruit of the first three years, which corresponds to overt evil, we banish this evil from our reality. In the fourth year, when we eat the fruit in purity only in Jerusalem, we accomplish the second stage of circumcision, pri'ah, removing the thin layer of egocentricity from our souls. The very act of partaking of the fruits in Jerusalem draws down the Divine inspiration we need to be conscious of God and to praise Him. We then achieve the state of holiness necessary to enter the state of natural consciousness of the fifth year, when the Divine blessing increases infinitely, similar to the infinity achieved in bringing new souls down to the world.
The Foreskin Inside
Besides its appearance in connection with our external reality (trees) and with our body (circumcision), the word for "foreskin" (arel) appears in the Bible in three additional contexts:
In Deuteronomy (10:16) "And you must circumcise the orlah of your hearts…" (by returning to God),
in Jeremiah (6:10) "Their ears are covered with foreskin,"
and in Exodus (6:12) Moses calls himself "aral sfatayim," someone who has foreskin over his lips (making it difficult for him to express himself).
These three appearances of arel all relate to our internal reality. Let us explore the two stages of circumcision in each of them.
The Heart: Seat of Thoughts
Spontaneous thoughts of desires--lust, power, cruelty, anger, etc.--are in the heart. These thoughts stem from the attributes of the person's heart (love, fear, praise, etc.) that he has not yet rectified. The first stage of the teshuvah ("return to God") process is to identify these thoughts as evil. One can then consciously involve himself with good thoughts, which will drive out the evil thoughts. This is the first stage of circumcision of the heart (removing oneself from evil), and is dependant upon one's ethical strength. (In Hebrew, "remove yourself from evil," sur merah, shares a root with "ethical behavior," musar).
The first stage of circumcision must be followed by the second stage of removing egocentric motivations that dictate our thoughts. To accomplish this, one needs Divine inspiration. In order to remove unconscious egocentric motivation, one must connect strongly to the deep and holy thoughts of the inner dimension of the Torah (Kabbalah and Chassidut). More than just replacing evil thoughts with holy ones, in this second stage one must think thoughts that consciously connect him to God.
Thoughts are likened to the fruits of the soul. Our first step is to abstain from all forbidden fruit of the first three years. When we consciously and deeply connect our thoughts to God, it is as if we are bringing the fruits of the fourth year to Jerusalem, where we partake of them with praise to God. By doing so, we reach the fifth year, when the natural flow of the heart is good thoughts and deeds.
The Ears: Good Vibrations
Our ears are our "receivers," absorbing audible and inaudible transmissions from our environment. In the first stage of circumcision, one can close his ears as soon as he identifies a negative communication. (Our sages teach that the ear lobe is custom designed for this purpose.)
The second stage of circumcision deals with fine tuning. Reality is full of vibrations. Some of these vibrations are revealed, and can be dealt with directly (first stage). Other vibrations are concealed, subliminally conditioning us to perceive reality in a particular (usually negative) way. In our second stage of circumcision, we must remove this subliminal conditioning and attune our ears to receive positive transmissions. This includes consciously hearing good about others, as well as perceiving God's Divine Providence on a personal and universal level. This corresponds to eating the fruits in Jerusalem in the fourth year, and elevates our consciousness to the natural flow of holiness of the fifth year.
Lips: Words of Torah
The lips are our transmitters. The first stage of circumcision of the lips is to ensure that they transmit no blatant evil. In the second stage of circumcision, one must fine-tune his speech. This includes removing all subtle egotistic motives that he may have for saying certain things, even words of holiness. In addition, one must make a conscious effort to speak holy words, particularly words of Torah and Chassidut. By speaking and teaching these words of holiness, one connects to God in praise, as when partaking of the fruits of the fourth year in Jerusalem. Speaking words of Torah removes the unconscious evil of speech, and opens the way for the fifth year, when all of one’s speech flows in natural holiness.
When we work on circumcising our external reality, our bodies and our souls, we achieve the flowing natural consciousness of holiness of the fifth year. In this way, we draw down infinite blessing from our Creator in every facet of our lives.