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The Maharsha notes that Isaac took his instruction by way of his father, Abraham, a prophet. He further notes that when a prophet is well established, one can heed his words without hesitation; thus Isaac readily submitted to Abraham on Mount Moriah.

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From Isaac’s answer to Ishmael, it seems he felt that only submitting to a test like the akeidah would serve as an answer to Ishmael’s argument. Yet, we find that there is a great degree of self-sacrifice entailed in submitting to circumcision as well. We read the following in the Midrash (Tanchoma, Vayera 4):

Genesis 18:1 states, “Vayera eilav Hashem b’Elonei Mamre v’hu yoshev petach ha’ohel k’chom hayom – G-d appeared to [Abraham] in the plains of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day.” Why does the Torah mention that Abraham was in Elonei Mamre? The Midrash explains that G-d never withholds the reward due a person. Abraham had three close and trusted friends, Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre. When G-d instructed Abraham to circumcise himself, he sought out their counsel. He wasn’t questioning G-d’s instruction, but rather, as the commentary Biur ha’Emarim explains, he sought their counsel on how best to fulfill G-d’s command – publicly or in secret so that his enemies not take advantage of his physical condition to take revenge.

First Abraham approached Aner and told him, “G-d told me such and such….” Aner replied, “You wish to cripple yourself so that the relatives of the kings you killed in war will now come to kill you with you unable to flee?”

Abraham then went to Eshkol and repeated G-d’s conversation with him, seeking his counsel. Eshkol replied, “You are of such an advanced age that should you circumcise yourself, the wound will cause you to lose much blood. You will be unable to withstand it and you will die.”

Abraham then sought out Mamre and repeated G-d’s conversation with him. Mamre replied, “Is G-d not the one who saved you from the furnace of Nimrod and performed many miracles for you, saving you from the kings? Were it not for His power and strength, they would have killed you. He saved the 248 limbs within you, and now when He makes a request of you relating to a part of just one limb, you ask my counsel? Perform His command!”

G-d then said, “You who have given him counsel to circumcise – I will not reveal Myself to him anywhere but in your domain!”

It is quite obvious that in Abraham’s view, circumcision entailed a great element of self-sacrifice. Aner and Eshkol obviously also thought so. Abraham was concerned that he would be placing, not only himself, but possibly his entire household in mortal danger.

(To be continued)

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.