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Who Performed Avraham’s Bris?

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In this week’s parshah Hashem commands Avraham Avinu to perform the mitzvah of bris milah. The pasuk tells us that Avraham was 99 when he performed the bris milah on himself. The Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer (29) and Tosafos, in Rosh Hashanah 11a, say that Avraham’s bris was performed on Yom Kippur. The Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer adds that Shem, Noach’s son, performed the bris on Avraham. There are several explanations as to why Avraham had Shem perform his milah.

Some opinions suggest that since the milah was to be performed on Yom Kippur, Avraham did not want to perform the milah himself since this would violate the laws of Yom Kippur. One may only perform a milah on Shabbos or Yom Tov if the bris is on the eighth day. Since Avraham’s milah was not on the eighth day after he was born, it was considered not in the proper time – and thus Avraham could not perform the milah. Since Shem, however, did not keep the Torah he could perform the milah. Therefore Avraham asked Shem to perform the milah.

But there is a medrash (Bereishis 49:2) that says that Avraham asked Hashem as to who would perform the milah on him. Hashem told Avraham that he should do it himself. Avraham immediately took a knife and was about to cut, but hesitated because he was worried about his age. Hashem sent His hand and held onto Avraham – and Avraham cut. The medrash’s source for this is the well-known pasuk from p’sukei d’zimra: “vecharos imo ha’bris – and he cut with him the bris.”

As according to Tosafos and the Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer the milah took place on Yom Kippur, we must then ask the following: since according to the medrash that says that Avraham performed the milah together with Hashem, how can this have been done on Yom Kippur – since Avraham kept the entire Torah even prior to matan Torah?

This question is based on the assumption that the milah of Avraham Avinu was considered “shelo bizmano – not in the correct time.” For if it was the correct time (the eighth day of a boy’s life) then one is permitted to perform a bris on Shabbos and Yom Tov. There are some Acharonim (the Yehudah Yaleh in Yoreh De’ah 254 and the Sdei Chemed, 7:2) who answer that, in fact, Avraham Avinu’s bris was considered to be done on time since he performed it on the day that he was commanded to perform it. Even though he was 99 years old, the bris was still considered to be on time and therefore permitted to be performed on Yom Kippur. Other Acharonim suggest that the reason Avraham’s bris was considered on time was because the commandment was for him to perform the bris on that very day, as the pasuk says: “b’etzem hayom hazeh, nimol Avraham v’Yishmael b’no – on that very day, Avraham and his son Yishmael were circumcised.” Since the bris was performed at the intended time, it was considered to have been done on time – and permitted to have been done on Yom Kippur.

Yet this is not the general understanding. Most consider the bris of Avraham Avinu to be shelo bizmano and therefore not permitted to be performed on Yom Kippur. It is quoted in the name of Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik, shlita, that it is for this reason that there is no mention that Avraham made a seudah by his or any of his household’s bris milah – with the exception of Yitzchak. This is because the Sha’arei Teshuvah (551:31) says that one only should make a seudah for a bris that is on time. We only find that Avraham made a seudah for Yitzchak’s bris because that was the only bris that was performed on time.

Another solution is that even though Avraham kept the entire Torah (as the Gemara says), certain discrepancies existed. Generally a bris milah that is not on time is not allowed to be performed on Shabbos or Yom Tov. However, since Avraham was not yet commanded to keep the Torah – and, for that matter, he was not commanded to keep Shabbos or Yom Tov – they were treated differently concerning this matter. Since they were not yet commanded to keep Shabbos or Yom Tov before matan Torah, a bris could be performed on Shabbos or Yom Tov even if it was not on time. Thus Avraham was allowed to perform his bris on Yom Kippur.

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