Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.
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.
Perhaps the most important leadership lesson Elkana taught us is to never underestimate the difference a single person can make.
“he’s my rabbi” the Black painter said with pride, pulling out a photo of the Rebbe from his wallet
The Torah notes that even when we are dispersed God will return us to Him.
One of the cornerstones of our Jewish life is chesed, kindness. Chesed can only be taught by example
Our understanding of what is and what is not possible creates imagined ceilings of opportunity for us.
This young, innocent child gave me a powerful, warm surge of energy and strength.
The Chafetz Chaim answered that there are two forms of teshuvah; teshuvah m’ahava and teshuvah m’yirah.
Question: I recently loaned money to a friend who has been able to repay only part of it. This was an interest-free loan. We exchanged a signed IOU, not a proper shtar with witnesses, since I have always trusted her integrity and only wanted a document that confirms what was loaned and what was repaid. Now that shemittah is approaching, what should I do? Should I forgive the loan? And if my friend is not able to repay it, may I deduct the unpaid money from my ma’aser requirement?
A Role Reversal
‘Return, O Wayward Sons…’
When the Kleins returned, however, they were dismayed to see that the renters did a poor job cleaning up after themselves.
In Parshas Re’eh the Torah tells us about the bechira to adhere to the commandments of Hashem and refrain from sin. In Parshas Nitzavim, the Torah tells us that we have the choice to repent after we have sinned.
As Moshe is about to die, why does God tell him about how the Israelites will ruin everything?
Jonah objected to God accepting repentance based on ulterior motives and likely for short duration.
Turkey is not going to be signing any deals for Israeli natural gas exports any time soon, says Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz.
The Israeli navy is about to receive its fourth submarine and the first of three nuclear-capable subs purchased from Germany.
Israeli searchers for missing Lakewood, New Jersey yeshiva student Aaron Sofer have found some of his personal belongs near a trail, his last known location, but fears are growing that the 23-year-old youth has been kidnapped and/or murdered. Police and a dog unit have tracked the Jerusalem Forest area where he was last seen on […]
Chabad rabbis say middle-of-the-night jolt makes him understand better what Israelis are going through in the war.
Neither, rain, nor sleet, snow nor Hamas can keep Apple co-founder Wozniak from biting into 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: