"I will enlarge your name." (12:2)
QUESTION: Rashi explains that "I will enlarge your name" is a reference to that which they say in Shemoneh Esreih, "Elokei Yaakov" — "G-d of Yaakov." How does Avram's name become enlarged if we say "Elokei Yaakov?"
Yaakov also had the name "Yisrael," which was given to him by the angel and considered a greater name. Why, then, don't we say "Elokei Yisrael"
instead of "Elokei Yaakov
The reason is that the words Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak, V'Elokei Yaakov have a total of 26 letters, which is the numerical value of the Tetragramaton: yud = 10, hei = 5, vav = 6, hei = 5. By saying Elokei Yisrael we would be saying a phrase of 27 letters which would not add up to the name of Hashem. The only way we could say "Yisrael" so that it would still add up to 26 letters would be to say Avram instead of Avraham.
Therefore, Hashem told him, "I will enlarge your name by adding a letter to Avram making it Avraham, and in order that the Jews should be able to say your enlarged name in Shemoneh Esreih, they will say 'Elokei Yaakov' and not 'Elokei Yisrael.' "
"I will make you into a big nation: I will bless you, and make you famous and you will be a blessing." (12:2)
QUESTION: Rashi explains that this refers to what we say in Shemoneh Esreih, "Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak, Elokei Yaakov," "but," Hashem told Avraham, "the berachah will be concluded with your name only — magen Avraham." Wouldn't Avraham be happier if Yitzchak and Yaakov were also mentioned in the conclusion of the berachah?
In Pirkei Avot
(1:2) we learn that the world stands on three pillars: 1) The study of Torah, 2) avodah
— the service of G-d, and 3) gemilat chassadim
— acts of kindness, tzedakah
. The patriarchs each epitomize one of these pillars. Avraham — chessed
(21:33), Yitzchak — avodah
(24:63), Yaakov — Torah (25:27).
According to Rashi, the pasuk is projecting the history of Klal Yisrael. There will be a time when the major relationship between the Jews and Hashem will be through the study of Torah (Elokei Yaakov). Other times it will be through tefillah — prayer (Elokei Yitzchak), and there will be a period when it will be through chessed — tzedakah (Elokei Avraham).
However, the "concluding phase" of galut and the coming of Mashiach will not be dependent on all three pillars, but in the zechut of chessed alone, which is personified by Avraham.
"And I will bless those who bless you and those who curse you, I will curse." (12:3)
QUESTION: Why doesn't the Torah write both in the same order, i.e., "I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you?"
The Gemara (Kiddushin
40a) says that Hashem gives credit to one who plans to perform a mitzvah
, even if circumstances prevent the realization of the plan. However, for a transgression (aveirah)
, one is punished for plans only
when they are carried out.
When a person blesses or curses, he first thinks about it and then expresses verbally what he has in mind. Therefore, Hashem is saying to Avram, "I will bless those who bless you as soon as they plan to bless you, even if they have not yet blessed you. However, those who curse you will be cursed only after they actually curse you, but not merely for thinking about the curse."
"I will bless those who bless you and those who curse you I will curse." (12:3)
QUESTION: Why is the expression "mekallelcha" used for "those who curse you," while the expression "a'or," from a different root, is used for the curse they will receive in return?
Avram was the prototype of chessed
. His entire life was dedicated to acts of kindness for humanity. It is very difficult to comprehend why anybody would want to curse such a person. Obviously one who curses Avram is in the "dark" and does not know Avram's true character.
The word "a'or" stems from the word "ohr," which means "light." Hashem told Avram, "Should there be a person who will curse you, I will open his eyes to see the light and understand who you are."
With this explanation, we can easily understand Hashem's words, which otherwise seem contradictory. After telling Avram that those who curse him will be cursed, Hashem concludes, "and all the families on earth will bless themselves with you." Why would the one who curses Avram want his child to resemble him?
The one who curses Avram does so only because he is in the dark. Once Hashem helps him to "see" the true light of Avram, he joins all those who pray to have children like him.
"And I will bless those who bless you and those who curse you I will curse; and all the families of the land will bless themselves with you." (12:3)
QUESTION: Since Hashem told Avram that all families will bless themselves to have children like him, who will be "mekallelcha" — "The ones that will curse you"?
Hashem was telling Avram that his mission was to go out into the world and spread yiddishkeit
. There would be many people who would join him and bless him for teaching them about Hashem.
As usual, he would come across people who would oppose him and even curse him. "Do not become frightened and abandon your mission," said Hashem, "because even those people who openly curse and oppose you will envy you in their hearts and pray that their children should be like you when they grow up."
"And Avram went according to G-d's instructions, and Lot went along; and Avram was 75 years old when he left Charan." (12:4)
QUESTION: Why is Avram's age mentioned?
Avram lived a comfortable life in Charan. Picking himself up at the age of 75 and moving to a new country was indeed difficult.
Avram was very much attached to Hashem and did anything that Hashem told him, even if it appeared difficult or he did not know its reason or significance. On the other hand, Lot accompanied Avram only because he calculated that he was an old man who would soon die childless, leaving Lot as his sole heir.
"Avram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, and the Canaanite was then in the land." (12:6)
QUESTION: What is the connection between these two things?
When Avram came to Eretz Yisrael
, the Canaanites were engaged in conquering the land of Israel from the children of Shem (Rashi). Usually, during a war, armies are extremely cautious, and all strangers are questioned to make sure they are not spies for the other side. Should they seem suspicious, they are punished and even tortured.
The Torah is emphasizing that although the Canaanites were presently in the land and it was a time of war, Avram was miraculously protected by Hashem and very easily went through the entire country without any hindrance.
"Why didn't you tell me that she is your wife? Why did you say 'she is my sister,' so that I would take her as my wife?" (12:18- 19)
QUESTION: It would have been enough for Pharaoh to say "Why didn't you tell me she was your wife?" Why did he have to mention that Avram had said she was his sister?
Before a man marries, he should investigate the brothers of the bride-to-be, because the children usually resemble the brothers of the mother (Bava Batra
110a). Pharaoh was telling Avram, "As the king of the land, I am a very prominent person. I do not just marry any lady that I meet. However, knowing that you are a great person and that children of your sister will resemble you, such a lady is proper for me to marry."
He, therefore, complained to Avram about two things:
- "Why didn't you tell me that she was your wife so I would not marry her?"
- "If you were afraid that I might want to marry her if you told me that she was your wife, and therefore you decided to lie and say she was only a relative, at least you should have refrained from telling me that she was your sister. Thus, I would have not have wanted to marry her. Hence, you are fully at fault for what happened."
"And he went on his journeys... to the place where his tent had been in the beginning." (13:3)
QUESTION: Rashi says, "On his return he paid his debts." Avram was very poor when he started out on his journey; why would anyone trust a stranger and lend him money?
The "debts" Rashi is referring to are not monetary. During his travels, many people asked him questions which he did not answer and he "owed" them answers.
When Avram started out on his trip, he was very poor. On his itinerary he would make stops and speak to the people about the greatness of Hashem. The people had never heard of Hashem, and many asked Avram the question: "If your G-d is so great and good, why doesn't he relieve your poverty?"
Avram was unable to give the people a satisfying answer. However, on his way back, after being blessed with riches, he visited the people who previously questioned him about Hashem to "pay" them the answer he owed them.
He told them that his riches were a reward from Hashem. A Jew must have faith that if he will deserve it, Hashem will reward him with all the best.
"And he went on his journeys from the South to Beth-el, to the place where his tent had been in the beginning.... to the place of the altar which he had made there at first." (13:3-4)
QUESTION: Why does the Torah discuss Avram's return journey at such length?
Upward mobility often leads people to change communities. Unfortunately, often the new neighborhood is less compatible with Torah values than the old one. The new area at times lacks proper yeshivot
, etc., and this causes an obvious decrease in religious observance.
Avram started his travels as a poor man and established his residence in the vicinity of Beth-El, an area which was spiritually in accordance with Hashem's desires for humanity. The Torah emphasizes that on his return, after being blessed with an abundance of material wealth, he did not change his style of living. He returned to the area of Beth-El, where he originally lived when he possessed modest means. Despite his affluence, he remained in the "old" Jewish neighborhood.
"Avram said to Lot, 'Please let there not be any strife between me and you ... for we are brothers (relatives).' " (13:8)
QUESTION: Why did Avram emphasize his kinship with Lot?
A story is told that a piece of wood once asked a piece of steel, "Why is it that when you are hammered you make such loud noises, and when they chop me the noise is not so loud?" The steel answered, "I am hammered with a hammer made of steel, which is my brother. I scream because it hurts when your own brother hits you."
Avram told Lot, "People should always avoid conflicts, especially with relatives and good friends."
"Let there not be any strife between me and you ... for we look alike." (13:8) (See Rashi)
QUESTION: Why is their similarity in appearance a reason for not quarreling?
Avram explained to Lot the following: "If you did not have a beard and peiyot
and did not look like a tzaddik
, then everyone would easily interpret and understand the cause of our quarreling: Either you are fighting with me because you despise religious Jews, or else I am at odds with you because you are my relative and I am unhappy with your irreligious behavior. However, since we both have beards and peiyot
, and appear as religious Jews, the secular world will laughingly exclaim: 'Look at the rabbis fighting,' and ridicule Torah-observant Jews. Consequently, our actions will cause a desecration of Hashem (chillul Hashem)
"And I will make your children as the dust of the earth." (13:16)
QUESTION: How are the Jewish people like the dust of the earth?
Everyone walks upon the dust of the earth, and similarly, many nations "step upon" the Jewish people. The dust, however, outlasts the people who trod on it, and the Jewish people, too, will prevail over their oppressors.
Alternatively, Hashem refers to the Jewish people as his "eretz cheifetz" — "desirable land" (Malachi 3:12).
The Ba'al Shem Tov explains the analogy in the following way: When one digs in the earth he can find valuable treasures such as silver, gold, diamonds, etc. Similarly, in every Jew, even the estranged, there are concealed riches. It is necessary to search within them and help to bring their "treasures" to the surface.
A Rabbi who intensely fought the missionaries in his town, was visited by the bishop and asked, "Rabbi, why do you oppose us so strongly?" The Rabbi replied, "When you convert someone to your religion you sprinkle him with your 'ritual water.' Jews are compared to the dust of the earth. When one mixes water with earth, mud results. I cannot sit idly by and see someone trying to make mud out of my people."
"And they took all the wealth of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their food and they departed.... And he brought back all the wealth." (14:11, 16)
QUESTION: In the course of the war, the four kings took away the wealth and food from Sodom. Why did Avram only return the wealth and not the food?
Avram went to battle during the night of the fifteenth of Nissan
, which is Pesach
night. During the first half of that night Hashem miraculously helped Avram to defeat the four kings. The second half of that night was reserved for the slaying of the first born in Egypt and the liberation of the Jewish people (Rashi, 14:15).
Whatever Avram managed to take from the enemies became his personal property. He instructed his army to be careful to dispose of any food taken from the enemies because it is forbidden for a Jew to have chameitz in his possession during Pesach.
"Avram heard that his relative [Lot] was captured, and he armed his servants and pursued them [the four kings] as far as Dan." (14:14)
QUESTION: The four kings were stronger than the five; why was this war so important to Avram that he went to battle putting his life and the life of Eliezer in danger?
Amrafel was one of the four kings. He was called Amrafel because "amar pol"
— "he said 'fall into' " — he gave the order for Avram to be thrown into the fiery furnace for destroying the idols and propagating G-dliness. He was also known as Nimrod because "He incited men to rebel marad
against G-d" (Eiruvin
Lot's appearance was identical to Avram's (Rashi 13:8). When Avram heard that Nimrod captured Lot, he worried that there might be a terrible desecration of Hashem (chillul Hashem). Avram feared that Nimrod would force Lot to declare in public that Hashem was false and that the idols were true. The people would think that Avram was speaking and, G-d forbid, conclude that since Avram himself changed his conviction about Hashem, they surely had no reason to have faith anymore. Therefore, Avram, wanting to avoid a chillul Hashem, endangered himself and went to war to rescue Lot from Nimrod.
"He gave him a tithe from everything." (14:20)
QUESTION: According to the Midrash Hanelam quoted in Yalkut Reuveini, Hashem took the letter hei from His Throne of Glory and gave it as ma'aseir to Avram, thus changing his name to Avraham. What in the pasuk alludes to this interpretation?
The Patriarchs were all blessed with a special blessing of kol
— everything. Regarding Avraham it is stated, "G-d blessed Avraham with everything" (24:1). Before his death the Torah states, "He gave over his 'everything' to Yitzchak" (25:5). Yaakov, too, was a recipient of kol
and, therefore, told Eisav "I have everything." (33:11)
The word "kol" has the numerical value of 50. Since the Torah states, "He gave him ma'aseir, 'mikol' — 'from everything' " — the Midrash derives that Hashem gave Avraham ten percent of kol (50), in the form of the letter hei, which has the numerical value of five. With this gift, He changed his name to Avraham, making it possible for him to have a child.
"If so much as a thread to a shoestrap; or if I shall take anything of yours." (14:23)
QUESTION: The Gemara (Sotah 17a) says that because Avram refused to take from the King of Sodom even a thread or a shoestrap, his children (the Jewish people) merited to receive two mitzvot from Hashem: the mitzvah of putting a thread of techeilet in the tzitzit and the mitzvah of putting retzu'ot (straps) in the tefillin.
Why are the tallit and tefillin worn specifically during shacharit prayers?
According to the Gemara (Berachot
26b) Avraham originated the concept of davening
to Hashem each morning. (shacharit)
. Therefore, during his tefillah
we don the tallit
and wrap the straps of the tefillin
around the arm and head.
When Avram spoke to the King of Sodom, he first mentioned the thread and afterwards the shoestrap; thus, we first don the tallit, which has in it the thread of techeilet, and afterwards the tefillin, which have the leather straps.
"And He said: 'Look now toward heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them'; and He said to him: 'So shall your offspring.' " (15:5)
QUESTION: In what ways are the Jewish people like stars?
From earth, the stars appear very small. However, the stars are actually immense. Hashem assured Avram that although on earth the nations of the world consider the Jewish people "very small" (of minor significance), in reality, up in heaven, they are of primary importance.
The stars twinkle in the high heavens. By their light, even one who walks in the darkness of night will not blunder. Every Jew, man or woman, possesses enough moral and spiritual light to influence friends and acquaintances and to bring them out of the "darkness" into the "light."
When one stands on the ground and looks up to the sky, the stars appear to be minute specks. In reality the stars are larger than the earth. As we approach them we can begin to appreciate their size and beauty.
The same is true of a Jew. Superficially, one may appear to be insignificant. However, as one comes closer and gets to know more about him, one can perceive the great and beautiful "Pintele Yid" (spark of Judaism) that is in him.
"He said to Avram, 'Your children will be strangers in a land which does not belong to them.' " (15:13)
QUESTION: The words "be'eretz lo lahem" — "In a land which does not belong to them" — seem extra? Obviously, a stranger is not in his own land.
When Yosef came before Pharaoh, he predicted that there would be seven years of abundance and seven years of famine. He advised Pharaoh to save up food for the seven years of famine. The people of Egypt came to Yosef to buy food, and when they ran out of money, Yosef took their cattle in lieu of money. When they ran out of cattle, he took their land.
Afterwards, Yosef relocated the people to different cities from one end of Egypt to the other. He did this so the Egyptians would not be able to embarrass his brothers by calling them strangers or refugees. Now the Egyptians themselves were also strangers in the places where they lived (Rashi 47:21).
Hashem told Avram, "Your children will be in the exile of Egypt for 400 years and they will be strangers in the land. However, it will not be too bad, because it will be 'eretz lo lahem' — a land which does not belong to them — to the Egyptians. Thus, they will not feel less comfortable than their Egyptian neighbors."
"They shall serve them, and they shall afflict them four hundred years." (15:13)
QUESTION: Because Avram asked, "How (bamah) can I know that [my children] will be worthy to have it?" (15:8) Hashem told Avram there would be an Egyptian exile for four hundred years (see Nedarim 32a). Why particularly 400?
In Hebrew, in addition to the regular alef-beit
there is an alef-beit
known as alef-taf, beit-shin
in which the alef
interchanges with the taf
, the beit
with the shin
, etc. Accordingly, the hei
interchanges with the tzaddik
and the mem
interchanges with the yud
. Thus, the letters of the word "bamah,"
which Avram used to inquire about the worthiness of his children to inherit Eretz Yisrael
, interchange with the letters shin-yud-tzaddik
. The total numerical value of the letters shin-yud-tzaddik
is exactly 400.
"And also that nation, that they shall serve, I shall judge; and afterwards they shall leave with great wealth." (15:14)
QUESTION: In halachah there is a rule: kam lei b'drabah mineih — When one is due two punishments (e.g. death and a fine), we do not inflict both, but mete out the severest penalty. Why were the Egyptians punished with losing their lives as well as their money?
This rule applies only when the two punishments are for the same act, e.g. stabbing someone to death on Shabbat
and damaging his clothes in the process. In such a case, the murderer is put to death but does not have to pay for the clothing he damaged.
However, the Egyptians received punishments for separate acts. They deserved the ten plagues as punishment for torturing the Jews (avodat perech), and they deserved to drown as punishment for drowning the Jewish children. They lost their wealth due to their failure to compensate the enslaved Jewish people for the work they performed for them. Thus, it is not considered a case of double jeopardy when punishments are given for separate crimes.
Alternatively, the rule of kam lei b'drabah mineih does not apply when heavenly judgment is rendered (Rambam, Hilchot Na'arah 1:14). Hashem reserves the right to punish individuals as He sees fit. Therefore, Hashem emphasized "Dan Anochi" — "I personally will judge and punish them." Hence, they will justifiably both pay and suffer for their iniquity.
"And afterwards they will go out with great wealth." (15:14)
QUESTION: Why didn't Avram say to Hashem, "No thank you, keep the wealth and do not make my children suffer galut (exile)?"
In addition to their simple meaning, the words "v'acharei chein yeitzu birechush gadol"
also refer to 1) Torah, 2) redemption and 3) the Messianic era.
- The words "yeitzu birechush" ("go out with wealth" — have the numerical value of 629, which is the same numerical value as "zehu Torah" — "This is Torah."
- The vav in "v'acharei chein" — "and afterwards" — seems extra. It would be sufficient to say "acharei chein" — "afterwards."
Our father Yaakov was very concerned about the Jewish people being in galut. Therefore, he took the letter vav from Eliyahu's name as a pledge that he will come and announce the redemption of his children (Rashi, Vayikra, 26:42).
During the Covenant that Hashem made with Avram (Brit Bein Habetarim), Avram was informed of all the different exiles the Jewish people would encounter. At that time, Hashem promised him that, in addition to being redeemed from Egypt, "v'acharei chein" — "and afterwards" — there will be an ultimate redemption heralded by Eliyahu thanks to the vav Yaakov took from his name as a pledge.
- The numerical value of the words "birechush gadol" add up to 565, (im hakolel — counting the statement itself as a total of one) which is also the same numerical value as zeh bizman melech haMashiach — "This — great wealth — will be in the era of King Mashiach."
Avram did not argue with Hashem because Torah, redemption, and Mashiach are worth much more than all the difficult trials and tribulations of galut.
"And Sarai said to Avram: 'My wrong be upon you; I gave my maidservant into your bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was made light in her eyes; may G-d judge between me and you.' " (16:5)
QUESTION: If Hagar was insubordinate to Sarai, why was Avram to blame?
Regarding Hagar, the Torah says: "And she (Sarai) had an Egyptian maid and her name was Hagar" (16:1). According to halachah
, when a woman marries, her belongings are considered melog
property, which means that the principal remains her property and that her husband is entitled to the benefits. He may use the products of the principal as long as his wife is alive, but he has no permission to sell the principal, nor is he allowed to give it away.
When a master marries off his slave to a Jewish woman, or when the master chooses his maidservant to become his wife and marries her, she automatically becomes a free person. Thus, after Avram had married Hagar, she considered herself a free person and no longer subject to Sarai's authority.
This upset Sarai very much and she said to her husband: "My wrong be upon you" [because] "I permitted you to marry my maid, but I never intended that she should become my equal, nor did I authorize you to set her free through your act of marriage."
Avram agreed with Sarai, and therefore said to her, "Behold, your maid is in your hand. Do to her that which is good in your eyes."
Sarai dealt with her harshly and Hagar fled. An angel found her and asked her: "Hagar, Sarai's maid, from where are you coming?" She responded: "From my mistress Sarai I am fleeing." The angel told her, "Return to your mistress and submit yourself to her authority." One may wonder, why did the angel give her these instructions?
The answer is that, in the course of their dialogue, Hagar argued that through her marriage to Avram she had become a free person and therefore: "I am running away from Sarai who wants to be my mistress." The angel disagreed with her, and referred to Hagar as Sarai's maid. He explained to her that Avram did not have the authority to set her free through his marriage and she was still Sarai's maid. Hence, "Return to your mistress and submit yourself to her authority."
"He will be a wild man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand will be against him." (16:12)
QUESTION: What was the angel alluding to?
The Gemara (Sotah
says that Avraham was blessed with "bakol"
— "everything" — as it is written, "G-d blessed Avraham with bakol
." Yaakov too was blessed with "kol"
— everything — as he said, "G-d dealt graciously with me and I have kol
— everything" (33:11).
The Arabs are Yishmael's descendants and pride themselves that they, too, are children of Avram. Eventually, they will fall into the hands of the children of Yaakov (Rashi 37:1).
The angel was hinting this to Hagar by telling her that, "yado bakol" — "Your son will try to hold on to his 'yichus' — pedigree — that he is related to Avraham, who was blessed with bakol. However, the end will be "veyad kol bo" — The hand of the children of Yaakov, who was blessed with 'kol,' will overpower and conquer him."
Targum Onkelos explains: "He will be dependent on the entire world, and the entire world will be dependent on him." Possibly, Onkelos is hinting to the fact that Yishmael is the ancestor of the Arab world.
The world is dependent on them because they control major oil sources. However, they have nothing besides oil, and are dependent on the entire world for their existence.
"And she called the Name of the G-d [Angel — see Igeret Hakodesh 25] Who spoke to her: 'You are the G-d of Vision.' " (16:13)
QUESTION: The word "atah" — "you" — seems to be superfluous; what was she emphasizing?
Many years ago sheidim
(demons) were common. They would appear at night or during the day in uninhabited areas, such as fields and deserts. Therefore, our sages have warned that a person should beware when a stranger approaches him in such places.
When Yehoshua reached the outskirts of Yericho, on route to wage war, a "person" engaged him in a conversation. The Gemara (Megillah 3a) asks, "Why did Yehoshua converse with the individual and not fear the possibility of him being a demon?" The Gemara explains that when the person spoke to Yehoshua, he uttered the name of Hashem — even a demon would not mention it in vain. This was proof to Yehoshua that the individual was indeed an angel.
When Hagar ran away and wandered in the desert, she was approached by a total of four angels. The first three did not mention that they were speaking as representatives of Hashem, so she had her doubts about their validity. Consequently, she did not talk at length with them or praise them. However, the fourth angel, besides telling her that she would give birth to a child, added the words "G-d has heard your affliction" (16:11).
Upon hearing him mention Hashem, she realized that he was indeed not a demon but a true angel of Hashem. Therefore, when she named the angel, who spoke to her in the name of Hashem, she emphasized that "you" are indeed the G-d of Vision.
"Do not call your wife Sarai; her name is Sarah." (17:15)
QUESTION: It should have said her name will be Sarah (future tense)?
According to an opinion in Midrash Rabbah
(47:1), in order to obtain a hei
for the name Avraham, Hashem took the yud
(which equals 10) from the name Sarai and gave half of it, hei
(which equals 5), to Avraham. Thus, Sarai became Sarah immediately.
Alternatively, according to halachah, a woman rises to the standards of the man. Thus, when a rich man marries a poor woman, she attains the rights of a rich woman (Ketuvot 61a). Hence, when Hashem added the hei to Avraham declaring, "I proclaim you a father of many nations" (17:5), simultaneously his wife was no longer merely his princess, but the princess of the world — and rightfully was called Sarah.
"Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you shall call him Yitzchak." (17:19)
QUESTION: The name "Yitzchak" is because of the laughter (Rashi). Why was the future tense (he will laugh) used for his name?
Avraham and Sarah had undertaken the difficult task of changing the course of the world by educating people about Torah and G-dliness. They had encountered great difficulties to the extent that Avraham was cast into the burning furnace by Nimrod.
As Avraham and Sarah aged and remained childless, those who previously feared them began to laugh and rejoice. "Soon Avraham and Sarah will die," they thought to themselves, "and without a child to continue their work, they will be gone and forgotten, and so will the ideas and ideals they propagated."
Avraham was concerned about this and prayed to Hashem for a child who would continue the work he had started. Hashem promised him, "Your wife will bear you a son. Name him Yitzchak because he will follow in your footsteps, and 'he will laugh' at all those who think that the efforts of Avraham and Sarah will go to waste and be forgotten."
"And he circumcised the flesh of their foreskin on that very day as G-d has spoken to him." (17:23)
QUESTION: Why does the Torah emphasize that all the circumcisions took place "on that very day" that he received the command? (See Rashi.)
In Parshat Vayeira
, we learn about the angels who visited Avraham on the third day following his brit
. That day happened to be Pesach
(Rashi 19:3). Thus, Avraham's brit
took place three days before Pesach
. According to the Da'at Zekeinim MiBa'alei Hatosafot
took place on Yom Kippur
A brit of a Jewish boy, which takes place on the eighth day after he is born, can be performed on any day of the week including Shabbat. If the brit takes place after the eighth day, it cannot be done on Shabbat or Yom Tov and, according to some opinions, it also cannot be done three days before Shabbat or Yom Tov due to the difficulties that are usually experienced on the third day after the brit (Yorah Dei'ah 266:14).
Thus, the question may be asked, since the brit of Avraham, Yishmael and all the males in his household, were not on the eighth day after birth, why were they performed on Yom Tov (Yom Kippur) or three days before the Yom Tov of Pesach?
To answer this, the Torah emphasizes that the brit of Avraham, Yishmael and all the males in his household, took place "on that very day" when Hashem commanded them. Since it was the day on which Avraham received the command, it was equivalent to a brit that is performed at the proper time (eighth day) and may be done on any day of the week.
"Avraham was ninety nine years old when he was circumcised." (17:24)
QUESTION: Avraham observed the entire Torah (Yoma 28b). Why did he wait to circumcise himself until he was so old?
The physical body is the property of Hashem and not one's personal asset. Consequently, it is forbidden to cause injury, or pain to oneself (Bava Kamma
. Therefore, though Avraham definitely wanted to perform a brit milah
earlier, the halachah
of not damaging Hashem's property prevented him. Once Hashem gave him a direct command, it was no longer considered inflicting injury, but the performance of a mitzvah
Alternatively, according to the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 27a) an uncircumcised is not qualified to perform a circumcision. Since neither Avraham nor any of his household were circumcised, it was impossible for him to perform a halachically valid circumcision. Ultimately, not only was he told to do so, but Hashem actually assisted him, as it is stated, "Vecharot imo haberit" – "And He cut with him the covenant" (see Rashi 17:23). It does not say, "for him," but "with him." Now that Avraham was properly circumcised, he was qualified to circumcise others, and he thus proceeded to circumcise all the members of his household (see Orach Chaim).
Alternatively, the Gemara (Kiddushin 31a) says that, "One who performs a precept having been commanded to do so is greater than one who performs a precept without having been commanded to do so." The one who is obligated is more worried and anxious lest he not fulfill than the one who is not obligated and therefore his reward is greater (Tosafot).
Therefore, Avraham performed all mitzvot with the anticipation that when Hashem commanded him he would do them again and receive the greater reward. Unlike all other mitzvot, the circumcision can be performed only once during a person's lifetime. If he had circumcised himself voluntarily, he would not be able to do it again anymore as one who is commanded and thus receive a greater reward. Hence, with this mitzvah he waited till he would be commanded to do so.