“And Abram was ninety-nine years old, and God appeared to Abram, and He said to him, ‘I am the Almighty God; walk before Me and be perfect.’” (Bereishit 17:1) It is in this pasuk that God’s name “Shadai” is used for the first time. The Midrash Tanchuma (at the end of parshat Miketz) says that the name “Shadai” refers to God’s power of creation. The Midrash goes on to say that during creation the skies were ‘stretching out’ without limits until God told them ‘Dai – enough’. This expresses the notion that God’s creation is incomplete. ‘Shadai’ – “She’amar Laolam Dai – He who told the world enough.” (Chagiga 13a)
Why did God create the world as an incomplete form? Even more so, why do we praise Him and name Him for that? God obviously could have made the world and its inhabitants bigger and better in all aspects; be it material, mental and spiritual. So why did He refrain from doing so?
The Ramchal, bases the entire theses of his book “The Knowing Heart” (Daat Tvunot) on this very question and concludes: “… and he created them (all creatures) imperfect, in order for them to reach perfection on their own merit, and their perfection will be the reward itself.”
God wanted Avraham to be the first to exercise this fundamental aspect of man’s purpose. This is the deeper meaning of the phrase from our Pasuk, “Hithalech liphanai vheye tamim” [Walk before Me and be perfect.] “Tamim” means whole like in the famous commandment: “Tamim tehiye im Hashem Elokecha” [You shall be wholehearted with Hashem, your God.] The Targum translates the word Tamim in the pasuk as Shalem, Whole.
How can Avraham reach this wholeheartedness? How can he reach perfection in an imperfect world?
Rashi explains the phrase “walk before Me and be perfect” – “Walk before Me i.e. serve Me by observing the mitzvah of circumcision, and as result of this you will become perfect”.
Avraham at this point in the parsha is an “arel,” uncircumcised. The “Orla,” foreskin, represents the frailty of our world. It is an imperfection that everyone is born with. But a Jew is commanded to remove the foreskin, he is able to fix that fundamental fault which is inherent in the physical world. This is why God created man imperfect and incomplete, in order for him to strive to reach perfection and completion.
The Gemara relates an incident that deals with this very issue. The Romans were strongly objected to circumcision “This is the body the gods have given you.” They said. “It is impious to change it.” Tyrannus Rufus, the Roman governor of Judeain the 2nd century C.E., once tried to lay a trap for Rabbi Akiva on this point. “Which would you say were better, Rabbi?” He asked innocently. “God’s works or man’s works?” Seeing through the trick, Rabbi Akiva replied immediately, “Man’s works!” Somewhat startled Rufus asked: “But Rabbi, how can you say such a thing?! Surely God’s works are much greater?” Excusing himself Rabbi Akiva went out and returned in a moment holding in one hand some ears of grain and in the other a cream cake. “Well, which do you want, your Excellency?” teased Rabbi Akiva. “These (the ears) are God’s work and this (the cake) is man’s!” “I wanted to ask you,” said Rufus, “if your God likes people to be circumcised why does he not arrange for them to be born circumcised in the fist place?” “I knew that’s what you wanted to ask me.” said Rabbi Akiva. “I’ve already given you the answer. God created us in an unfinished state, like the ears of grain, so that we can work on ourselves in this world. Mizvot were given to Israelso that we can refine our characters.”