Seconds often make the difference between life and death and new technology makes the difference…
In this week’s parshah, Hashem commands Avraham Avinu to perform the mitzvah of bris milah. We once discussed a question that several Achronim ask regarding this mitzvah, and I want to share some new thoughts on the matter. The Achronim ask that since the Gemaras in Kiddushin 82a and Yuma 28b say that Avraham kept the entire Torah, even though it was not yet given, why then did Avraham not perform a bris milah on himself earlier? Why did he wait until he was commanded to do so at age 99?
The Mizrachi, on this pasuk, answers that the Gemara in Kiddushin 31a says that the performance of a mitzvah when one is commanded to do so is greater than its performance when he is not commanded. Thus, to gain the mitzvah, Avraham decided to wait until he was commanded to perform it.
The Brisker Rav answers that Avraham kept the entire Torah even though it was not yet given. However, certain mitzvos, due to the lack of their physical existence, were impossible for him to perform – and therefore were not considered as if he didn’t perform them.
The mitzvah of bris milah is to remove the orlah (foreskin). Before Avraham was commanded to perform a bris milah, there was no concept of orlah. Prior to the commandment to remove the orlah, there was no distinction between the foreskin and the rest of the skin, since the foreskin was not yet considered orlah. Only once the Torah commanded him to remove the orlah did the foreskin become orlah. Thus, prior to the commandment, Avraham could not perform the mitzvah of bris milah.
With this understanding we can also answer another question. The pasuk in this week’s parshah (Bereishis 17:3) says that when Hashem spoke to Avraham regarding the mitzvah of bris milah, Avraham fell on his face. Rashi explains that this happened because he was an arel (uncircumcised male). As we find that Hashem spoke to Avraham many times before this episode, why only now did Avraham fall on his face because he was uncircumcised? According to the p’shat of the Brisker Rav, that prior to the commandment that he be circumcised the foreskin was not considered orlah, we can understand why Avraham never felt the need to fall on his face while talking to Hashem until this time: because before this commandment, he was not considered an arel.
Another example of a mitzvah where the concept did not exist prior to it being commanded is the mitzvah of kiddushin. Although there was a form of marriage before the Torah was given, it was of a different status. With this the Brisker Rav explains how Yaakov Avinu was permitted to marry sisters. He explains that only under the new status of kiddushin is it forbidden to marry sisters, whereas the marital status that existed prior to the giving of the Torah did not prohibit marrying sisters.
There is another answer as to why Avraham did not perform the mitzvah of bris milah prior to being commanded to do so, even though he kept the rest of the Torah. Bris milah is a bris (covenant) between two parties. Before the other party agrees to a covenant, there cannot be a covenant. Therefore, prior to being commanded to perform a bris milah, Avraham could not do so on his own – for it would not be a covenant.
On this pasuk, the Panim Yafos (who also authored the Sefer Hafla’ah) offers another answer to this question. He says that the prohibition of not wounding oneself extends to bnei Noach as well. Therefore, prior to being commanded to do so, Avraham could not perform a bris milah on himself, as it was prohibited to wound himself. He explains that this was the reason that the people of Avraham’s generation protested Avraham’s performing a bris. Since they were not aware of the new commandment, they argued that it was prohibited. Thus Avraham had to perform the bris, as no one else heard the commandment.
I was bothered by the following question after reading the answer of the Panim Yafos: How is it that we are allowed to perform a bris milah today if in fact it violates the prohibition against wounding oneself or another? One cannot answer that when the wound serves a purpose, it is not prohibited – since in Avraham’s case there was a purpose even prior to his being commanded to do so. Perhaps one could suggest that after the commandment to perform a bris milah was instituted, we can apply the rule of assei docheh lo sa’aseh; thus one may perform a bris even though he is making a wound. This would explain why Avraham could not perform a bris prior to being commanded to do so, since we cannot apply the rule of assei docheh lo sa’aseh before there was a command to do that assei.
For questions or comments about this column, e-mail RabbiRFuchs@gmail.com.
About the Author:
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
In her diary, Anne Frank wrote words that provided hope for a humanity faced with suffering.
The Arizal taught this same approach, making the point that the Torah would never mention wicked people and their sins if there was not great depth involved from which we are to learn from.
Humility is not achieved when all is well and life is peachy but rather when times are trying and challenging.
In order to be free of the negative consequences of violating a shvu’ah or a neder, the shvu’ah or neder themselves must be annulled.
“I accept the ruling,” said Mr. Broyer, “but would like to understand the reasoning.”
He feared the people would have a change of heart and support Rechavam.
Ramifications Of A Printers Error
‘The Note Holder’s Burden of Proof’
Question: If Abraham was commanded to circumcise his descendants on the eighth day, why do Arabs – who claim to descend from Abraham through Yishmael – wait until their children are 13 to circumcise them? I am aware that this is a matter of little consequence to our people. Nevertheless, this inconsistency is one that piques my curiosity.
In this case one could reason that by applying halach achar harov we could permit the forbidden bird as well.
“What a way to spend a Sunday afternoon,” my husband remarked. “Well, baruch Hashem we are safe, there was no accident, and I’m sure there is a good reason for everything that happened to us,” I mused.
The answer to this question is based on one of the greatest shortcomings of man – self-limiting beliefs.
Myth that niddah=dirty stopped many women from accepting laws of family purity and must be shattered
In every generation is the challenge to purge the culture of our exile from our minds and our hearts
Rabbi Fohrman connects the metzora purification process with the korban pesach.
“He did not know what anger was and never engaged in slander.”
Ratification does not imply admission of the possession of nuclear weapons.
Muslim terrorists from Somalia want to make Kenya the next victim on its way to take over northern Africa.
Niv Asraf wasn’t kidnapped near Hebron after all. Apparently he and his friend planned this…
The discovery would be a death blow the PA claims that Tel Aviv is “Palestinian” if it weren’t for the fact that that Arafat was born in Egypt.
Three Israeli Caving Club hikers found the cache in a stalactite cave in northern Israel.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/why-did-avraham-not-perform-a-bris-earlier/2011/11/02/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: