It is told in Midrash Tanchuma (Tazria 5) that there was a wicked gentile named
Turnus Rufus the Evil, this gentile was educated and he had questions about the
scriptures and the outlook on life etc.. and he would bring his questions in front of
Rabbi Akiva, and he would receive suitable answers to all his questions.
(Our sages of blessed memory treated any person with honor, any person who
reach out to them would receive a proper and respectful response.
“and receive all men with a pleasant countenance.” (Avot 1 15).
They never even thought, G-d forbid, to ignore any gentile or any woman, which
would be a desecration of the name of G-d.)
One woman asked Rabbi Yossi Ben Halfta (Tanchuma, Bereshit 2)
Rabbi Yossi Ben Halafta is an honored and holy person, what does he have to
do with a woman?! She reached to him, he didn’t ignore, but answer with
patience through parables until she received a sufficient answer to her questions.
“The daughters of Zelophehad came forward..” “They stood before Moses..”
The daughters of Zelophehad have a Halachic question about the laws of
inheritance, Moshe Rabenu hears them, treats them with respect, and a whole
new Parasha is revealed in the holy Torah in their merit.
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Zelophehad’s daughters speak justly.”
(Bamidbar 27, 6-7) And holy Rashi wrote – “Praiseworthy is the person whom
Hashem justifies his words”. So if Hashem, Blessed Be He, praises them – Don’t
they deserve to be treated with respect?!
The impurification creates a residence in the world below
Let’s get back to the point. The same Turnus Rufus the Evil asked Rabbi Akiva:
What is more preferred? The product of Hashem, or the product of human
At initial thought we would say what’s the dilemma?! Obviously Hashem’s
product is better.
And here Rabbi Akiva answered him the total opposite: The human being’s
product is better.
The gentile keeps on asking: “Why do you circumcise your sons? After all G-d
created them with a foreskin!” Rabbi Akiva replied to him: “From your first
question I realized that this is where you are heading to, therefore I answered
you that the person’s products are better, and for that reason we circumcise our
sons. Rabbi Akiva wasn’t satisfied with his answer alone, but he illustrated this
with an unbeatable proof. He went and brought crops and cakes. Rabbi Akiva
asked the gentile: “Aren’t the cakes better than the crops?! Here is your proof
that the person with his work betters the creation of Hashem. And the same
concept goes for circumcision – A person who cuts off the foreskin of his son
improves the creation that G-d made with a foreskin.”
The Gentile asked: “If really circumcision is considered as better and improved,
why is the baby born with a foreskin and needs to circumcised? He should have
been born circumcised!”
Rabbi Akiva answered him: “Hashem, Blessed Be He, gave us the Mitzvot in
order to purify us. If the baby was already born circumcised, there would be no
tests, no challenges. The Holy One, Blessed Be He has enough angels in
heaven, he doesn’t need more of than on earth.
Here in this world a child who is born with a foreskin has bad desires with an
animalistic soul, but after he gets circumcised “Brit Kodesh”, he is given powers
of holiness, so he will be able to deal with the challenges, to overcome the
difficulties, to serve Hashem with all his senses and powers. And by doing so he
becomes holy and pure.
Hashem, Blessed Be He, wants that the actions of people will improve and purify
creation, and turn it into a clear and pure place so he will have a ‘residence in the
world below’, just like in the world above.
The residence in the world above is holy and pure, just due to being in the world
above. And the residence below is built by Torah and good deeds, by the power
of purifying. And that’s how Rabbi Akiva finished his words: “The only reason why
Hashem gave his commandments to the nation of Israel is to purify them by
them, and therefore King David A”H said: “The truth of Hashem is pure.”