Sharing Torah Insights

Lech Lecha- Showing Off or Showing Up?

Posted on ז׳ במרחשון ה׳תשע״ב (November 4, 2011) | in Lech Lecha, Uncategorized | by

“This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised.” (17:10)

We are taught that Avraham kept every mitzva in the Torah before he (or anyone else for that matter) was even commended to, with one exception: the commandment to become circumcised. Bris Mila is the only Mitzva he did once he was commanded to do it. [Prophetically, Avraham divined the mitzvos that would only be commanded later – like eating matza and blowing shaofar, for example. ) The question, asked Rav Nissan Alpert, is why not? Why specifically by the mitzva of mila did Avraham wait until God actually commanded him to do so?

Furthermore, the Medrash in next week’s Parsha reveals that actually even after Avraham was commanded to circumcize himself he still was not totally sure. The Medrash recounts that Avraham visited some friends and asked for their advice regarding the circumcision; he wanted to know if it was a good idea. The question is obvious! By the story of the Akeda, Avraham had no qualms about sacrificing his son Yitzchak. There he did not consult with colleagues- he needed no convincing that it was the right thing to do. But here by Mila, Avraham needs to ask his friends for advice-!?

Rav Nissan Alpert offers one approach. The Mitzva of Mila, he says, is categorically different than all the other Mitzvos Avrhaam did up until that point. Circumcision displays a radical physical difference between a Jew and a non-Jew. (Let us put aside one who unfortunately cannot or did not have a circumcision.) It is a sign that the Jewish people are an elevated group. Avraham knew this fact and was concerned that undergoing this radical change would perhaps sabotage his attempts at influencing the pagan worshipers of his time. Once he got the Mila everyone would view him as a Religious Fanatic, or a person with sacrifice for God too great to be mimicked by the mere mortal. People might be intimidated, overwhelmed, or turned off when encountering a person who took his service to God to such an extent as to make an abrasion in his body.

Therefore Avraham did not voluntarily circumcise himself and he even was hesitant when God told him to do so. “Perhaps, Avraham relayed to his friends, Hashem’s message will go unheard if I perform this mitzva. Maybe it is better I do not do it!! Only when his friend Mamre advised Avraham to listen to God did Avraham acquiesce.

Why now, at the age of 99, was God advising Avraham to get a Mila? If Avraham avoided having it done up until this point, why did God feel that now it was the time to get it done? Rav Alpert adds that now God knew that Avraham would become a father soon. Before Avraham could be a proper father and teacher to his child, Avraham need to ‘perfect’ himself through getting the mila.

There are a number of lessons to be derived here. Sometimes we feel that to influence others to more closely follow the ways of Hashem we cannot appear to extreme in our religious behavior. We might turn them off. Indeed, as evidenced by Avraham’s hesitance, this might be a valid approach. We have to be careful not to be overbearing or patronizing when trying to influence others. But Mamre (and God of course) disagree with Avraham and say that no, he should still get the mila. This approach seems to imply that sometimes we should not worry so much about our appearances. We should be ourselves, be proud of our ideals and what we look like. This will create a positive sentiment and impact when displayed properly to others.

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