The Relationship Between Circumcision and Death

August 5, 2020 - 15 Av 5780

Is Circumcision Most Painful on the Third Day?

I recently heard in a shiur by Rabbi Manis Friedman the following:

The mourning period (aveilus), which I think is very fascinating: there's the seven days, the thirty days, the year, in the seven days the first three are more intense than the last four. Why is all that?

When I heard this I was not aware that the first three days are considered to be the most intense of the mourning period. The Jewish tradition speaks of the soul's departure from the body as a gradual process of detachment. As I just learned, the first three days of this detachment are the most intense.

I cannot help but notice just as the first three days after the soul's departure from the body are the most intense (or painful) that the pain of the first three days following the circumcision are as well the most painful.

There are two references to the pain experienced on the third day after the circumcision in the Torah, the first being Genesis 18:1 (Vayeira):

Now the Lord appeared to him in the plains of Mamre, and he was sitting at the entrance of the tent when the day was hot.

Rashi says that God's reason for coming was "to visit the sick (Tan. Buber, Vayera 1). Said Rabbi Chama the son of Chanina: It was the third day from his circumcision, and the Holy One, blessed be He, came and inquired about his welfare (B. M. 86b)."

In Genesis 34:25 (Vayishlach) we have an explicit reference to the third day of circumcision being painful as well:

Now it came to pass on the third day, when they were in pain, that Jacob's two sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, each took his sword, and they came upon the city with confidence, and they slew every male.

While neither of the verses above state that the third day was the most painful, the Ibn Ezra's opinion is that the pain reaches a crescendo on the third day:

ביום השלישי – כי אז הכאב גדול ביותר; השווה מסכת שבת, פרק ט׳ משנה ג׳ ותוספות יו״ט שם

What circumcision and death seem to have in common is the fundamental transition made between two different states. For example, the circumcision is associated with allowing the person to exist in a spiritually elevated state as related in Deuteronomy 10:16 (and 30:6), which says "You shall circumcise the foreskin of your heart, therefore, and be no more stiffnecked."

Both as well involve a departure from the flesh. The foreskin represents the difficulty, or inability, in reaching an elevated spiritual state. To this end King David in Samuel 1 17:26 states "...for who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the ranks of the living God?" Just as the foreskin acts as a barrier to an elevated spiritual state, the body, left unchecked, does as well. The circumcision seems to weaken the body's power over the soul so as to allow it to function properly, achieved through the bris milah.

However, it should be noted that the body was not designed to be a barrier to the soul, demonstrated by the fact that God placed a body in the soul in the first place. This is a topic that requires further discussion.

That the transition between both states is most keenly felt on the third day suggests a fundamental relationship between them.


Verse Genesis 34:25 is the basis for the permission to heat up water on Shabbos, indicating that the pain involved may be a risk to life (Shabbos Perek 9 Mishna 3):

?מנין שמרחיצין את המלה ביום השלישי שחל להיות בשבת

The University of Mississippi Medical Center published an article titled What To Expect After Circumcision which says the following:

Children usually get through surgery very well and have little pain. We suggest giving ibuprofen every eight hours for the first three days after surgery; this may prevent pain before it begins and reduce the need for stronger medications. This occasionally can upset the stomach, so it is a good idea that your child eat or drink something at the same time as taking the medication. After 3 days, your child can take this medication as needed.

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