Daniel Benjamin is a 29 year old Realtor from Bradenton, FL.
After 1 year of contemplating the issue of whether or not to have a Bit Milah, he finally had his Bris done on the 7th of Sh’vat, 5766.
Thank You Letter
Rabbi Gansburg and Brit Yosef Yitzchak,
Now, it has been 2 ½ weeks since my bris, and I’m still overwhelmed by the magnitude of the experience. I laugh just thinking about it all. Words fail me in expressing my gratitude. I’ve been thinking for weeks about what precisely to write, and how exactly to describe the experience. I have the natural tendency to approach experiences with a very analytical, matter-of-fact attitude; but, this was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, and so was my reaction. I simply yielded and experienced it.
The purpose of this letter is also for the benefit of others considering bris milah, so if I speak of you in the third person, it’s because this is for them, as well as you. I feel like writing three separate letters; a thank-you to you and your organization, a description of the experience for future bris milahs, and a description of the metaphysics – because I feel that different readers will be inclined to understand different perspectives… but they’ve all just sort of gotten melded into one letter… and I’ve already been writing and re-writing this letter for so long. So here goes:
Where to begin? My maternal grandfather emigrated from Russia, in the 1930s, I believe. He had an orthodox upbringing, but Judaism for them was only skin deep. He explained that although his family was pious in observance, beatings were a usual part of their Shabbos ritual. Having no real relationship with Hashem or understanding of the life-changing purpose of their ritual, he grew to resent the deprivations that a frum life required... or that he thought they required. College and career pursuits further distanced him from G-d; to his children – my mother’s generation -- the traditions were simply not taught. My mother remembers elaborate Friday evening meals – without any stated purpose or intent. Her father would briefly recite Kiddush – at full, blazing orthodox speed, to the bewilderment of family, who knew nothing of what he was saying or doing… and thought it all a big joke. And to some degree, it was, because he detested pious Jews.
And so it was that this was the extent to which Judaism permeated my mother’s generation: Jews don’t eat pork. Father says something on Friday nights. Jews are superior to the ‘goyim.’
And as they grew to adulthood, even these things were completely forgotten... all except a belief in the innate greatness of the Jewish people. Only one of my three uncles had a bar mitzvah. None attend synagogue. All are atheist. Both my mother and sister married non-Jewish men, and neither chose to circumcise their boys – a total of five. And my generation has carried on this newer tradition: marrying non-Jewish wives, having non-Jewish children, not circumcising their sons… in short, being completely ignorant of the amazing history and tradition of our people. I know that until just over a year ago, I knew that my family was Jewish… and that’s all I knew – Not a single fact more. Assimilation.
It makes me sad that my family has been denied the joy that I’ve experienced; Over the last year of study and devotion, celebrating Hashem’s love for us, growing and learning through observing the feasts, and celebrating his mitzvot, has become my foremost joy. For right or wrong, I put the cart before the horse (so to speak), as far as observance goes, but I was enjoying the fullest and most satisfying life that I’d ever lived; I was doing the best I knew how, in the place that I was.
For both my brother and I, circumcision was foremost on our minds when we began our return to a Jewish life. Learning more or less on my own, I approached the mitzvot backwards… the easiest first, and the hardest later. I didn’t understand which mitzvot were the most critical and necessary, nor which were important pre-cursors to the rest. I frighten myself, looking back at the past year. For the past 15 months, I knew that a bris milah was necessary step that would come… when it was time. I understood it to be a necessary part of the new Jewish life that I wanted to lead; But, I had entirely missed the critical necessity of the bris milah as a covenant – a contractual relationship with Hashem – G-d – Himself; A contract that Hashem has honored, but that I was breaking – to my own detriment, and that of the entire community of Israel. I was completely out of touch with the peril in which I lived every day. I kept delaying the bris milah.
At first, in early 2005, I did some rudimentary research online, where there is little pro-circumcision information to find. All I found was untrue and inflammatory information from secular anti-circumcision sources.
A family friend, conservadox in observance, whom I credit for teaching me most of what I’ve learned about leading a Jewish lifestyle, poisoned me against the idea of a kosher bris milah; He told me that it wasn’t possible for adults, due to the pain and recovery time, and would lead to complications, reduced sensitivity, or at least some significant sub-optimal results – whether functional or cosmetic. He told me that it could only safely be done as an elective surgical procedure by a surgeon… ie, that I should find a Jewish urologist to perform the (very expensive) procedure, and be satisfied with that; So, discouraged, I just turned my attention back to mundane matters; Three young children that I was struggling to raise alone; related legal matters that caused constant headaches; a real estate business that I was fighting desperately to get off the ground (and that had been operating at a loss for six months); my daily ritual observances which were getting more and more rewarding. I dismissed circumcision as something for which I would at least need cash to pay for it. I’d further dismissed the entire idea of a kosher bris milah. I wasn’t convinced of the necessity that it be kosher, and just didn’t have time, means, or resources for it right now. I actually visited Rabbi Israel Heller’s website, www.mohel.com, during my early searches, but simply wasn’t motivated enough to make the call, or get further information… or perhaps I didn’t see the word “adults” figuring prominently enough on his website.
During the months that followed, as my learning and understanding grew… being uncircumcised became a great shame to me. Struggling to be as observant as possible of the mitzvot daily, sleeping in my succah, reciting daily tefilah, it became too much for me.
Reciting birkat hamazon (blessing after meals) with guests became very troublesome for me… I would stammer every time I reached “V’al brit’cha shechatamta b’vasareinu” – We thank You, Hashem, “for your covenant which you’ve sealed in our flesh,” because I had no such covenant sealed in my flesh.
I just didn’t know what to do. It was such a private issue that I couldn’t bring myself to discuss it with someone that I knew, let alone a complete stranger – but unfortunately, since I’m not a part of an orthodox community, that excluded anyone who would know what to do about this problem. I had the desire to get it accomplished, but I just didn’t know who to ask. And then, every time I did any research, I ran into the same roadblock – I didn’t have the money to pay for it anyway.
That caused me a great deal of pain… particularly near the end of 2005, when the conviction of the necessity of the bris milah became very strong. I really became upset about it. I remember saying sometime in December, that “February would be my month for a bris milah.” That’s one of the many times I’ve had strange, even mystical insight into spiritual things that were happening. I began to see my business moving forward and anticipated a few paychecks in the coming months. Thus, it was time to seriously decide when and where I would arrange the bris milah. I did periodic research online, but the research led nowhere. There was simply no information on kosher circumcision that I could find, and by that time, I had absolutely resolved that a kosher bris was the only option for me. I didn’t know who to turn to, so I asked Moses… www.AskMoses.com. One of the Rabbis who answers questions at the website told me simply, “We recommend Rabbi Heller – www.mohel.com.” When I went to Rabbi Heller’s website, I immediately recognized it… it was the first site that I’d found, many months ago, when I began my search. In hindsight, I realize that it was my own lack of commitment that had hidden this option from me, when I first saw it… and now it was revealed. I filled in the “contact me” webform (on impulse) and Rabbi Heller called me back the next day.
I had forgotten about the prior evening’s online inquiry, when the phone rang and I saw, “MOHEL ISRAEL HELLER” on my phone’s caller ID; I was terrified.
I spoke with him, and he referred me to Rabbi Alan Roswell, who put me in contact with Rabbi Gansburg (or vice-versa). Rabbi Gansburg seemed a bit incredulous that I could be Jewish by birth – American-born – and uncircumcised. I faxed him some family records, and by Wednesday, February 1st, 2006, less than two days after I first contacted him, he was ready to have the bris performed anytime, and the preferred time was now. He gave me several names and numbers of other adults who have had their bris milah recently, and I planned to call them… eventually.
Now, I should take a moment to praise Rabbi Gansburg. Rabbi Gansburg is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. His warmth and enthusiasm and faith went farther in getting me onto that table than anything else… and for my brother as well. Whereas everyone else with whom I’d discussed this matter continually focused on the mundane, corporeal aspects of the bris, Rabbi Gansburg fixated on the overwhelmingly important spiritual and mystical aspects; He repeatedly spoke of the separation from G-d that this omission was causing, and of the ‘gates of heaven’ opening afterwards. He spoke of a new closeness with G-d that would be experienced. He insisted that he’s heard the same feedback about the process again and again from others who have been bris’d as adults. And he wanted to arrange the bris for me immediately. But… although Rabbi Gansburg truly made me understand the desperate urgency of this mitzvah, I began to feel that the process was moving forward too fast. I had initially really only wanted information on bris milah. I had intended – even wanted – to pay for the procedure myself… which I was really not able to do at the time; I was still several weeks or even months away from realistically being able to do that… in fact, I had no idea whatsoever how much money the bris milah would cost. Further, I am what people like to call a “control freak.” I started to feel as though I was losing control of the process… because I was losing control of the process... and wanted to take a step backwards and think about this decision for a few days… or longer. I couldn’t understand why these complete strangers wanted so desperately to provide me with a bris milah! Or why they refused to discuss the cost of the procedure. I explained these concerns to Rabbi Gansburg, who had rebuffed my repeated requests for a price to be put on this whole process. … and his response? “That’s the yetzer hara!”— the evil inclination, confusing me with temporary earthly matters, and distracting me from eternal, spiritual matters. I thought about that statement for a moment… perhaps overnight (I don’t exactly recall), and it all made perfect sense to me:
I was struggling against G-d’s will… blinded by irrelevant matters that seemed pressing. So, I agreed to travel down to Miami that Sunday, February 5th, for the bris milah.
That night, after setting the date, I did a bit more research online, and found nothing but upsetting, inflammatory, and clearly untrue anti-circumcision information, rife with tales of mutilation and complications of every variety, including what’s probably at the top of everyone’s mind, although nobody wants to say it… erectile dysfunction… impotence. There were horrifying pictures of ‘circumcisions gone awry’ and every manner of propaganda against circumcision, ranging from personal testimonials to purported medical opinions. I truly didn’t know what to think. I truly didn’t know who to believe. Rabbis Roswell, Heller, and Gansburg insisted that the procedure (with a local anesthetic) was painless and completely safe, with no signification discomfort, with no significant recovery time, no significant complication. They told me that the cosmetic results and recovery time were superior to that of urologists performing the procedure for medical reasons. They insisted that the entire experience is described universally as positive and pleasant by everyone who has underwent it. They insisted that they have never observed a serious complication, or any complication at all, except slight ones that could be clearly explained by neglect on the part of the individual – by failing to rest and care for the incision afterwards. In short, everything would be better… everything.
Still, I didn’t know whom to believe… it was very discouraging. There were voices of extreme conviction and urgency on both sides of the issue urging both arguments.
I was so confused… I began to question my conviction. For the first time in the entire process, I was scared. But, it was only for a moment. I thought about everything that I’ve heard, and made the decision based on faith… on following G-d. I knew that G-d knew what was best for me, and had made clear what He wanted from me. I resolved to be pleasing to G-d, no matter what the cost. I refused to be concerned about complications, or cosmetics, or any other matter… even function. I knew that no good Jewish woman would ever consider marrying an uncircumcised Jew… so I wasn’t concerned about functioning – I’d need to be circumcised to ever have the chance to use it again (to be perfectly blunt). I wasn’t concerned about complications, because this was Hashem’s will – I had not arrived at this decision for ulterior motives (only to satisfy a pious fiancée, or for social stigma)… but in a sincere search for G-d’s will… the desire to lead a righteous life and be pleasing to Hashem… to help mend a broken covenant. And as such, I simply could not fathom that it could be possible to perform such a mitzvah, with only a goal of pleasing Hashem, and have anything go wrong; It was impossible – completely outside what could happen in the universe. Finally, as for my concern for my post-bris cosmetic appearance, I resolved that I simply didn’t care:
I told myself, “I will be as Hashem will have me be… and no other way… and that will be sufficient for me.”
I feel obligated to point out that I had scheduled the bris almost five days away… against Rabbi Gansburg’s urgings. He recommend that it be arranged immediately… the same day, if possible… and offered to send a driver (if I lacked transportation) or a helicopter (if I lacked the time)… in short, ANYTHING to get it done as soon as possible… as he said, repeatedly, “Nothing will stop us.” And of course, he was right – I left myself too much time to meditate on my situation. Over that time, I became highly sensitized to many disturbing truths about what it meant to be in violation of G-d’s covenant… I suppose that in my yielding to G-d’s will, I became able to understand the issue more clearly. I began to understand the continuing land disputes and our people’s tenuous grip on the land of Israel – and how our possession of the land is inextricably tied to the covenant of circumcision. I began having disturbing dreams… in one dream, I was driving my car over a bridge, but crashed and was knocked into the bay. The car sunk to the bottom, and I couldn’t free myself, and was slowly suffocating. I began panicking for fear of what place – if any – awaited me in the world to come without a bris, and resolved to perform my own bris milah with any available implement before I suffocated. This dream repeated itself in different situations… trapped on a sinking submarine, etc. I have to admit, I was somewhat tormented, as I began to understand the necessity of the bris milah… and was very circumspect about having neglected it for so long. It would have been a very unpleasant wait, had I not been able to feel very clearly that I was being protected and guided to the appointed day.
But, nightmares and doubts aside, once I was entirely convinced within my own mind and spirit, everything changed. It was like I was walking on clouds... the whole world quieted. I immediately began to feel that the impetus bringing all of this about was not my own... but was mystical in nature. I could feel a powerful, mystical pull toward this event. I was filled with joy about the upcoming mitzvah, and expected it to be completely pain-free and pleasant.
The entire world around me seemed to slowly come to a halt, and gave me perfect clarity and peace to reflect on the import of my upcoming bris milah. I could actually see a spiritual tunnel leading me to my destiny, holding the outside physical world at bay until I arrived in Miami.
On Saturday evening, immediately after Havdalah, the phone rang. Rabbi Gansburg was checking in to make sure that everything was still going well. I mentioned that there was a slight chance that my brother Jonathan would be driving up to attend, and I told him that I hoped that Jonathan might one day decide to have the bris milah… and inquired with Rabbi Gansburg if they would be ready, just in case he should decide to do it on impulse. Rabbi Gansburg replied, “Nothing will stop us.” But, as Jonathan had shown limited interest thus far, I didn’t hold much hope… but still, the idea had occurred to me.
The morning of the bris as I began the four-hour drive to Miami, I saw rows of angels standing along the side of the road.
At the time, I thought that they were protecting me on the journey, preventing any interference… but when I think about it now, they seemed more relaxed – even amused… just watching, seemingly in awe of what was happening – the eternal importance of the event was so great. I’ve never in my life felt so completely confident or so focused in purpose. When I arrived, I was informed that my brother, Jonathan, had driven the same distance to be there to celebrate with me. Despite my urging and demands, he had told me that he wouldn’t be there, so it was a welcome surprise… I had hoped that he would someday also have his bris milah, and I wanted him to get an understanding of what the procedure would be like – that is, how simple and easy it would be.
The procedure went as expected. Upon arrival, I signed several forms to satisfy the surgeon who hosted the affair. Brit Yosef Yitzchak arranged for a surgical suite at an upscale plastic surgery office, the plastic surgeon was present, along with a urologist, two mohels, a prominent local Rabbi who acted as my sandak, and of course, Rabbi Zalman “Nothing Will Stop Us” Gansburg.
I was not permitted to observe the procedure... I’m sure that was for the best. A local anesthetic was administered by injection, which felt like a sharp pinch… but was brief and insignificant (I should mention that I’m terrified of needles… and so that was actually the worst part of the whole process). Other than that, the process seemed quite mysterious, since I felt absolutely nothing at all. I felt an odd twinge or two during the procedure… and although I insisted that it was trivial, Rabbi Heller used more anesthetic, insisting that I feel no pain at all. And of course, we celebrated with Kiddush and a meal afterwards.
Now, throughout the process leading up to the bris, I had been told numerous times that at the moment that the cut is made, the ‘heavens open up to accept the prayers of the bris milah.’
Everyone repeated this mystical tidbit to me over and over again, so I came prepared with supplications. Noteworthy among my supplications, and first among them, was for my brother to have his bris milah there also. Now, I am a very spiritual person, sometimes frighteningly in touch with what is happening spiritually, but I didn’t place much credence in this particular belief. I don’t know if it was a surprise to me at the time or not, but after a great deal of cajoling and explanation both on my part, the doctor’s part, and the rabbi’s part, he agreed to move forward with his bris, and we switched places.
Now, I had assumed that there would be some pain afterwards when the anesthetic wore off… common sense wouldn’t suggest any less. However, nothing could have been farther from the truth. The truth – contrary to every piece of false information that I encountered on the internet – was that there was absolutely no pain whatsoever. There was discomfort, to be sure… not from the procedure, but simply from the exposure of new skin that had seldom before seen the light of day… and which certainly had never been in prolonged rubbing contact with clothing. The only exception was the occasional erection, which, I suppose, was pain… but it really didn’t seem like “pain.” I suppose that sounds strange, but it’s very difficult to describe. There was some minor swelling (my brother’s swelling was slightly more notable), particularly of the frenulum area… which continued significantly.
And of course, the first week was one of hysterical comedy, as my brother and I were in constant contact regarding the bruised and swollen appearance, making a huge joke out of the entire situation… which is about the most Jewish thing one can do. Perhaps a joyful heart does, indeed, good work like a medicine… because we laughed for the entire week straight. And after around two weeks, the swelling dissipated and the general irritation of the newly exposed skin ceased.
The following reflections were written a few weeks later, in early March, looking more at the real life changes that I noticed after the bris… and were meant to be a re-write of the above letter… but I’ve merged them.
In the year leading up to my bris, I’d pursued the practice of Judaism to the greatest degree that I was able – whether appropriate or not – sleeping in my succah, observing a very strict kosher diet, wearing tefillin, studying Torah and the Hebrew language; Although my observance lacked complete Shabbat observance (and of course, bris milah), I was at times able to attain a great degree of holiness and connection to God. However, this connection was quite intermittent, and generally elusive; I usually only found it attainable through thrice-daily tefillah, the strictest kosher diet, mikveh (sometimes as often as daily), frequent fasting, and sessions of intense meditation, supplication, and prostration. In short, it came at such a high cost to my time and energy that it was unsustainable – and it was therefore short-lived. The feedback that I received on the bris process, both from Rabbis and those who have experienced bris milah as adults was very narrowly focused; Other than a few unique details, the main revelation that every testimonial had in common was the sudden increase in the closeness of G-d;
This experience was described almost universally as “the heavens opening up... and being connected to G-d… without any barriers.” I think that this was the most compelling testimony that I heard.
In fact, I knew when I heard it that it was exactly what I was wanting to hear. I was assured that this experience would take place on the table, during the bris, and came prepared for the heavens to literally open at that moment. But, as it happened, my experience was far more subtle at first; It only became more profound in the weeks that followed. The first change I noticed in the days after the bris milah was a dramatic reduction – even near-elimination – of inappropriate sexual urges and thoughts, including the motivation to masturbate. I even thought to inquire with my brother (who of course had his bris milah the same day), “Have you felt less ‘perverted’ since the bris?” By the second week, I started to realize that the frequency of my nocturnal seminal emissions, (which had recently been as frequent as two per week – very inconvenient) had decreased to zero... and to date there has been no recurrence. That’s probably unusual feedback, but I speculate that others have experiences similar benefits… but hesitate to express them.
In the third week, I realized that the influence of the yetzer hara – the evil inclination – had been weakened to such a great degree, that I suddenly had control of my thoughts and actions in ways that I’ve not been able to before. My attitudes and temper were suddenly under my control.
On the first Shabbat after the bris, I drove to shul, as I had done for over a year… but with great reservation. By the second Shabbat, the antipathy toward driving on Shabbat had grown to total disgust and misery… I was mortified. The next morning, the 2nd Sunday after the bris (two weeks later), I truly heard Hashem speak to me regarding the issue during my morning tefillah, that I resolved on the spot to become completely Sabbath observant. The next two Shabbats, though a halachic comedy of errors, were the most gratifying Shabbats of my life, both physically and metaphysically, despite the inability to attend synagogue services. The complex and maniacal arrangements to avoid directly using electricity (though a miserable failure those first two weeks) elevated the observance to a form of divine worship.
By the fourth week, I was beginning to understand the magnitude of the spiritual changes that had taken place. I realized, quite suddenly, that rather than having to labor and travail and agonize to bring about a connection with G-d, I was now able to simply close my eyes and connect.
I can’t put it any more simply than that; I had never even conceived of such ease in connecting with G-d.
I began to comprehend my daily tefillah to be times of coming before G-d to serve in His presence in practical terms – previously, I’d always understood this purpose in theory, but failed to actually feel that this is what was happening. I’ve gained an almost constant feeling of being in G-d’s presence – of G-d watching me; It’s as if He were perched over my shoulder, observing everything that I do… wherever I am (not simply stored away at home in my prayer closet). This feeling has given me an impetus to make sudden strides in every area of my life, and it’s affected my language, how I relate to my family and children, associates, and even complete strangers. In the past, I’ve really sometimes only believed in G-d in the theoretical sense, with rare moments punctuated with an unusual sense of His presence. Now, a month after the bris, these ‘rare’ moments of G-d’s presence have become the norm.
For a very long time, as I contemplated the bris milah, I had a very empty and unfulfilled feeling about it, not knowing when or how I would be able to arrange it. Now, I have a constant and continual reminder of G-d’s presence and assistance in life. I can’t say it any more plainly than to say that the bris milah has brought me in so much closer to G-d, and to my people.
Further, I am compelled to note that I’ve reviewed a great deal of online literature on circumcision, both for children and adults. All of it seems to be inflammatory anti-bris milah propaganda. All the mis-information available online contradicts the truth of the procedure, as I lived it; All information claims excruciating pain, disfigurement, and dysfunction;
The truth, though it surprised even me, is that it was basically painless (during and after) and recovery was almost immediate.
The cosmetic effect is good (my brother jokes to me by singing, “I Feel Pretty”). And function seems good as far as I can tell (I am not married). I was basically comfortable immediately afterward, and had no use for pain medications. I drove my family home from the bris, and was up and about with no disruption to my mobility or serious discomfort at any time afterwards... with the sole exception of occasional nighttime erections, which did put tension on the incision, and the added sensitivity, which was an annoyance. But, these were short-lived and trivial, and the entire experience was positive in every way, and I can find nothing negative to say about it.
So, thanks once again to both your organization and yourself. This is truly a mitzvah of mitzvot.