12:3 And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.

The medrash points out that the expression “and on the eighth day” here is in regards to bris milah, but an almost identical expression appears in Parshas Emor (22:27) regarding an animal, which can be used as a korbon “and from the eighth day…

Man and animals are compared again in Koheles (3:19): Whatever befalls the sons of Man also happens to animals. This pasuk concludes: “וּמוֹתַר הָאָדָם מִן-הַבְּהֵמָה אָיִן, כִּי הַכֹּל הָבֶל“ (Man has no pre-eminence above an animal; for all is vanity).

The Medrash Raba on this pasuk of Koheles points out that while the meaning of the word אָיִן would normally be “nothing”, the fact that it is here in the pasuk implies that there is something that differentiates Man from animals. The Medrash offers several possibilities, including:

  • A person has burial (kevura) while an animal does not.
  • A person has a burial casket (and possibly both a burial casket and burial shrouds) while an animal does not.

The words of this Medrash seem elusive, and I would like to offer a possible explanation.

We are aware that Bris Milah is not merely a physical operation on the body, but rather it is a procedure that upgrades the child into a person who is able to grow in his spirituality in a way that he could not beforehand. In fact our Rabbis teach us that the soul isn’t complete until the milah is performed. While he is still the same person, he has an aspect of kedusha by the fact that he went through this procedure. But as far as his physical body is concerned, the procedure is no different than doing a nose job. Possibly the medrash is telling us that when someone does something to his physical body, not only does it empower him to be more spiritual, but his physical body is upgraded to become a holier physical being. To the point that even when separated from the spirituality because the neshama is removed, one would think that the body is now likened to the carcass of animal. So the Medrash tells us that this is not the case. Even the ayin – the nothingness of our physicality – is upgraded to the point that it must be revered and respected even posthumously. So the Medrash is telling us that though both are physical, there is a physical improvement made to the body by the bris milah.