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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Ketav Sofer’

Parshat Vayeishev

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Most people remember where they were when they heard the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed and justice delivered. Many books have already been written about the ten-year search for him, the decision to launch the mission and the actual attack on his compound in Abbottabad. While every aspect of this story is fascinating, I would like to focus on one specific area: Why were the Navy SEALs chosen to execute the mission? When the mission was being planned it was hardly a done deal that the SEALs would be selected as opposed to the CIA’s own paramilitary unit.[1]

At a meeting at the CIA in early 2011 Admiral William McRaven, the commander of JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command), suggested that one of the military’s special operations forces be used. His suggestion was SEAL Team Six[2], based on their availability. His reasoning for using one of his teams as opposed to a CIA team was as follows: The compound was located 150 miles inside Pakistan. The least of the problems would be the actual storming of the compound. The key challenge was that the attacking force would have to fulfill its mission and extract itself without starting a shooting war with the Pakistani army. This made the mission overly complex and, the more complex a mission, the more things there are that could go wrong. The SEALs, McRaven argued, had perfected these tactics through trial and error, and at the cost of many lives. They knew what they were doing. They had the experience.

McRaven told CIA officials that history has taught that on missions like this, something always goes wrong – no matter how much planning there is. What they needed were men who could think under pressure and adapt to whatever situation materialized. McRaven was persuasive and SEAL team Six got the job.

The commander handpicked the SEALs who would go on the mission. “It was a Dream Team: men who, in the thousands of raids he had overseen, had shown they did not rattle, had shown they could handle themselves coolly and intelligently not just when things went according to plan, but when things went wrong. Those situations required quickly assessing the significance of the error or malfunction or whatever unexpected event had occurred, and then making the necessary adjustments to complete the mission. The core talent required was the ability to adapt, to think for yourself and make smart decisions” (The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden by Mark Bowden, 2012, p. 192-93).

The ability to adapt is necessary for all successful leaders. Either things don’t go as planned or unexpected opportunities present themselves. While the leader’s vision and overall goal should remain constant, his plans and tactics must be flexible. This requires conditioning and preparation. In this week’s parsha we meet the ultimate adaptable leader—Yosef. Every step of Yosef’s kidnapping and sale to the Midyanim and then to the Yishmaelim was guided by Hashem, and inspired Yosef to adapt in every situation in a manner that would place him on the trajectory to become viceroy in Egypt. The Ketav Sofer points out that Yosef, despite being a charismatic and success-generating individual, managed to act plain and unassuming while in the company of the Yishmaelim. Had he been his normal self, they never would have sold him in Egypt; they would have opted to keep him for themselves. Had that happened Yosef would have remained a permanent prisoner of a nomadic tribe with no hope of becoming a player in world affairs. Yosef thus adapted to the situation by subduing his natural personality.

Upon being sold to Potifar the Kli Yakar (39:3,5) explains that Yosef demonstrated his organizational and managerial skills and earned three promotions within the household operation. Seeing his success Potifar assigned Yosef to his personal staff with the independence necessary to do his job. He then placed him in charge of the entire household staff. Finally, he appointed him as manager of all his operations, including all of his outside concerns.

After Yosef was falsely accused of misconduct, he was sentenced to the royal prison. Yet even there, amid the terrible conditions of a prison, Yosef adapted and managed to impress his superiors, inspire confidence and attain the position of prison manager. The Or Chaim Hakadosh (39:22) suggests, based on the wording of the pasuk, that Yosef, despite being the senior prisoner, did not take advantage of his position and co-opt for himself special privileges. Instead, he worked with the other prisoners sharing in their discomfort. By setting such a high personal example Yosef endeared himself in the eyes of all others.

Q & A: Brit Milah – A Unique Mitzva (Part II)

Thursday, January 1st, 2004
QUESTION: Why did Abraham originally not observe brit milah? I have heard that he observed the whole Torah based on his own understanding.
Arye Reed
(via e-mail)
ANSWER: Last week we began our discussion with the covenant between G-d and Abraham (and his children) and Abraham’s brit milah, as described in Parashat Lech Lecha (Genesis 17). We mentioned the intent behind the brit milah, which is to be tamim, pure and wholesome before G-d, and that is accomplished for a man by removing his foreskin. We introduced the concept of Abraham fulfilling the entire Torah even before it was commanded to him. Rabbi Kellman explains that Abraham hungered spiritually to fulfill mitzvot much as people hunger physically for food.We continue by focusing on exactly what we mean when we say that Abraham fulfilled the whole Torah, and how that applies to his brit milah.

* * *

R. Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer, the Pressburger Rav, zt”l, author of Responsa Ketav Sofer, discusses the topic of brit milah in his Ketav Sofer al HaTorah, Vol. I (p. 65). The discussion is based on the verse, “Be’etzem hayom hazeh nimol Avraham [veyishmael beno] – On that very day, Abraham was circumcised [with Ishmael his son]” (Genesis 17:26).

Our verse in Genesis states, “Be’etzem hayom hazeh – On that very day” Abraham was circumcised. “That day” is explained as being Yom Kippur in a midrash cited by Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer (ch. 29), which the Ketav Sofer quotes. The expression be’etzem hayom hazeh is used for Yom Kippur as well (Vayikra 23:21). This explanation is based on the opinion stated by Rabbi Eliezer (see Rosh Hashana 10b-11a) that the world was created in Tishrei (and the Patriarchs were born in the month the world was created). [The other opinion, that the world was created in Nissan, is stated by Rabbi Yehoshua (ibid.) and supported by Seder Olam, as quoted by Rashi (Bereishit 18:10).]

The Ketav Sofer asks how the brit of Abraham, which is certainly a “mila shelo bi’zemanah,” a circumcision performed not in its proper time, i.e., after the eighth day, could be performed on Yom Kippur. A brit performed on the eighth day would certainly take place on Yom Kippur, but Abraham’s was well after the eighth day. Since Abraham observed the entire Torah even before it was given to Israel at Sinai, he must have known that his brit milah should have been performed after Yom Kippur. R. Sofer offers a solution. He explains: “Possibly this was considered bi’zemanah since [Abraham] had now been commanded about the mitzva of brit milah and thus, immediately after the command was given, he performed the circumcision.” R. Sofer points out that we do not consider that Abraham may have performed the brit on Yom Kippur because he was not yet commanded to observe Yom Kippur, since Abraham had indeed accepted upon himself the responsibility of observing Yom Kippur many years earlier.

We find the concept of the voluntary [act] later becoming obligatory in the comments (Shabbat 9b) of the Rif, R. Alfasi, regarding the Maariv prayer. [The Rif explains that now that the Jews have accepted upon themselves the Maariv prayer as a requirement (chovah), one is thus required to interrupt his meal to pray Maariv just as he would do for the Mincha prayer.]

The Ketav Sofer continues homiletically: “We might answer according to a midrash which Rashi cites for Genesis 17:24, based on the verse in Nechemiah (9:8) which states, “Vecharot immo - and He (G-d) cut with him.” The midrash informs us that G-d sent out His hand, held on to the knife, and circumcised [together] with Abraham, and thus it was considered as two doing a prohibited labor together, so that neither bears liability for that labor, as we find in the Gemara (Shabbat 3a).

R. Sofer reiterates our Sages’ conclusion (Kiddushin 82a and Yoma 28b, as noted earlier) that Abraham observed the entire Torah before it was given. This obviously gives rise to the question why Abraham did not perform a brit milah for himself earlier rather than wait until an advanced age.

Mizrachi (loc. cit. 17:24) poses the above question and offers an answer. Our Sages state (Kiddushin 31a; Bava Kamma 38a, 87b) that it is considered far greater to perform a mitzva when one has been commanded to do so, and is therefore obligated, than to perform a mitzva even though one is not commanded, i.e., voluntarily. Abraham, aware of this, knew that he would be able to perform the other mitzvot again after being specifically commanded to do so. However, doing a brit milah again would be impossible.

“Nevertheless,” the Ketav Sofer continues, “one must fully understand the Gemara’s statement (Yoma 28b) that ‘Abraham observed the entire Torah, even eruv tavshilin’. It would seem from that statement that Abraham observed the entire Torah before it was given without any exceptions.” Thus, asks the Ketav Sofer, if we say that Abraham specifically delayed performing the mitzva of brit milah, how can this be reconciled with the statement that Abraham fulfilled the entire Torah? The solution offered directs us to Yevamot 71a. There we learn that the mitzva of peri’ah, uncovering (the crown of the male organ), was not given to Abraham.

The question is raised: If G-d commanded Abraham to do the brit milah, why did He not do so as well for peri’ah? One might argue that it is a greater deed when one is not commanded in a mitzva yet he does it voluntarily. Indeed, such was the initial opinion of R. Yosef (Kiddushin 31a); however, he subsequently changed his view and supported the more accepted principle that it is far greater to perform a mitzva that one has been commanded to do.

The reasoning is that the yetzer hara, the evil inclination, causes more harm when one is commanded and obligated in order to prevent the individual from performing his duty.

Tosafot comment (Yevamot, loc. cit. 71b, s.v. “Lo nitnah peri’at milah…”) that Abraham’s brit milah had two aspects: 1) Abraham performed the actual circumcision, which he did upon being so commanded; 2) Abraham performed peri’ah, which he was not specifically commanded to do. Abraham performed these acts in the same manner in which he observed all the other mitzvot. Thus Abraham observed this mitzva (brit milah) in the manner of metzuveh ve’oseh, one who was commanded and performed the mitzva. Therefore, should the evil inclination have sought to turn Abraham away from performing the brit milah, the fact that he included a voluntary aspect in the brit (peri’ah) protected Abraham, and the evil inclination was rendered powerless.

Thus, the statement that Abraham observed all the Torah, which implies without exception, is correct. Now that the Torah has been given, one has not accomplished the mitzva of circumcision if one does not do peri’ah. Abraham did do the peri’ah even though he had not been commanded specifically.

The statement of the Gemara about Abraham observing all the [commandments of the] Torah refers to the future, to the time after Abraham accomplished the mitzva of brit milah with both aspects, the obligatory part as well as the part that, for him, was voluntary.

(To be continued)

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/ask-the-rabbi/q-a-brit-milah-a-unique-mitzva-part-ii/2004/01/01/

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