Last weekend, as we discussed Lech Lecha in my new Torah Study group, someone asked why God would require circumcision. After all, he argued, God is omnipotent, so if God doesn't want man to have foreskin, then God could just make man without foreskin.
But I don't think that's the point. Circumcision symbolizes the covenant between Jews and God. It is the act of circumcising someone (more than the end result) that matters here. God always requires action of us, because actively engaging with something makes it more ours and actively engaging with someone makes that relationship stronger. When we interact with God (through Torah study, prayer, ritual, or however else you do it), we are building a stronger relationship with God and with the others who participate in those activities with us.
We see the necessity for action all over Genesis. God couldn't just spare Noah's house; Noah had to build an ark. Despite being promised a child by God, Sarah believes that there is still action required on her part to produce that child (whether or not letting your husband sleep with your slave so you can adopt the resulting boy as your own son is the action any of us would take is a separate matter). And now God requires circumcision, which is just the beginning of many more mitzvot - actions that will solidify our covenant with God.
The group leader took this one step further and said that it is not only action, but choice, that builds strength and character. Lech Lecha not only means "go" for Abraham, but "choose." In leaving his home, Abraham can and must choose a new life for himself. As a stranger in a new land, who will he be and how will he define himself? This struggle for definition in choice is what makes Abraham and Sarah the spiritual parents of all Jews by Choice. Abraham chooses to act in some pretty impressive ways and Parsha Vayeira this weekend will highlight some of his best moments. Hopefully we can all follow Abraham's example - to defend our friends and family (Gen 14:14), to treat the stranger with kindness and generosity (Gen 18:2), and to stand up for justice (Gen 18:25).
What better time to act generously and kindly than now, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, when so many friends, family and strangers throughout the Northeast are without homes and without power?
To those affected by the storm, I wish you a speedy rebuilding.