ישיבת כרם ביבנה

Avraham's Covenant

הרב משה סתיו

"Hashem appeared to him in the plains of Mamre." (Bereishit 18:1) Rashi writes: "[Mamre] was the one who gave [Avraham] the advice about the circumcision; therefore, [G-d] revealed Himself on his land." What emerges it that Avraham was debating whether to circumcise himself or not, and he consulted his neighbors. Mamre was the only one who advised him to circumcise himself, and therefore Hashem revealed Himself on his land. Avraham's doubt is very difficult to understand. After all, Avraham was willing to sacrifice himself for Hashem in Ur Kasdim, and had already successfully passed all of Hashem's tests. Why should he doubt this mitzvah?

In addition, Rashi comments on the pasuk: "On that very day" (Bereishit 17:23) - "[Avraham] was not afraid of the gentiles and the scoffers, and not that his enemies and the people of his generation would say, 'If we had seen him, we would not have allowed him to circumcise and perform Hashem's commandment.'" This also needs to be clarified, why should the nations of the world treat circumcision any differently then they treated the other mitzvot that Avraham fulfilled, which presumably bothered them more?

We find that the mitzvah of circumcision is associated with a covenant. What is special about this mitzvah, more than all the other tests, that makes it viewed as a covenant?

On the pasuk: "Walk before me and be straightforward" (Bereishit 17:1), the Ibn Ezra writes: "That you should not ask about the circumcision." This also requires clarification.

Avraham is known for having sought out on his own the truth and the path to proper understanding. He taught this path to many, as Rashi explains on the pasuk: "The souls they made in Haran." The Rambam also expands on the subject (Hil. Avodah Zarah, ch. 1), and writes that his students numbered in the thousands.

The Torah describes this work of Avraham with the words: "For I have loved him, because he commands his children and his household after him that they keep the way of Hashem, doing charity and justice." (Bereishit 18:19) From this we can learn that the way to know Hashem is through doing charity and justice. The Rambam explains this at length is Moreh Nevuchim (Part III, ch. 54): "The way to achieve true perfection which is the perceiving of Hashem, is through recognizing Hashem's guidance [of the world] and following in His ways. This is all included in the term, 'The path of Hashem.'" The first stage of this level is achieved through man's work, and contemplation. This awareness, however, is limited by the human ability to perceive. A person has a material body, which limits the range of his spiritual perception with the boundaries of nature. However, the upper level of human perception, which is achieved through prophecy and Divine wisdom that is revealed in the Torah, is brought about through Hashem's revelation to men.

The "Chaver" (Rabbinic voice) in the Khuzari (IV:27 Even Shmuel edition) explains:

The study that we find in "Sefer Yetzirah" (a kabbalistic "manual" for the creation) was Avraham Avinu's study after he had come to the realization of G-d's unity and sovereignty, but before he experienced a revelation. However, after he experienced revelation, he abandoned the path of deductions ... Chazal already taught, "Forsake your astrology."

At the end of the section:

The conclusion of the book is: "When Avraham understood and formed, and he analyzed and contemplated and succeeded (i.e. when he attained the peak of human perception) – Hashem revealed himself to Avraham, called him, "My beloved," and sealed a covenant between them ... that of circumcision.

Therefore, the covenant between Hashem and Avraham is the covenant between Hashem and man on the ultimate level that is beyond human perception. This perception is dependent on Divine will, on the one hand, and on man's total submission and acceptance of the yoke of Heaven, on the other.

There are two apparent ways in which Avraham's role in spreading the faith can be performed: The first is the human method of observation, and the spreading of the path of Hashem. This is what Avraham had done all his life. Although this way seems, at first glance, more expansive and able to spread, it does not have the element of eternal truth and therefore cannot last.  When Avraham was commanded about circumcision, he was required to rise above the humanitarian and social elements of mitzvah observance to the level of one who is commanded and obeys. Thus, the main point of the covenant is that Avraham becomes straightforward in his submission to Hashem, and through this he becomes Hashem's special and unique share. [See Rashi on the pasuk, "You shall be straightforward with Hashem, your G-d. (Devarim 18:13)].

However, the price of this covenant is disengagement from the world and the commitment to a separate nation. This obviously includes surrendering the ability to have global influence the world. (Indeed, the belief in one G-d was spread throughout the world by Christianity and Islam, which were influenced by Judaism, whereas Judaism itself was unable and was not meant to spread).

Indeed, we find with Yitzchak and Yaakov less of a universal call to worship Hashem, and Yaakov focused only on his family. This covenant first created the separation between Am Yisrael and the nations of the world. The process was completed with the Akeida, where Avraham tells his escort Eliezer and Yishmael: "Stay here by yourselves with the donkey" – a nation that is compared to a donkey. The nations of the world oppose this process, as their prophet Bilam argued later on – "Is it not better for You to be worshiped by seventy nations?!"

We find in the Midrash that Avraham himself was afraid of this: "He said, 'Until I circumcised myself, the travelers would come to me.' Hashem said to him, 'Until you had circumcised [yourself] – uncircumcised people would come; now I and the members of my pavilion come." Thus, Avraham's hesitation lied in the fact that until the covenant he served Hashem not as one who was commanded, and he could rationally consider on his own the correct way to worship Hashem. Now, he was required to give this option up. (It is necessary to point out that Halachically he was still not actually obligated to observe Hashem's commandments – because he had not yet actually entered the covenant, and he debated in his mind what was better. In the end we learn that the true path is to enter the covenant with straightforwardness).

This is Hashem's answer, that the heavenly influence may seem initially limited in its scope, but when viewed in the perspective of eternal truth it can be seen that it influences and corrects the entire world. This is pointed out in the Midrash: "Avraham said, 'After I circumcised myself, many converts came to join this covenant.'" This is Avraham's path that he left for later generations in establishing the Chosen Nation that received Hashem's Torah.

 

 

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