Why Did Avraham Not Perform A Bris Earlier?
In this weeks parsha Hashem commands Avraham in the mitzvah of bris milah. We once discussed a question that several achronim ask regarding this mitzvah, and I wanted to share some new thoughts on the matter. The achronim ask that the Gemaras in Kiddushin 82a and Yuma 28b say that Avraham Avinu 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 one who performs a mitzvah when he is commanded to do so is greater than one who performs it when he is not commanded. Since this mitzvah can only be performed once 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 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 urla (foreskin). Before Avraham was commanded to perform a bris milah, there was no concept of urla. Prior to the commandment to remove the urla, there was no distinction between the foreskin and the rest of the skin, since the foreskin was not yet considered urla. Only once the Torah commanded him to remove the urla did the foreskin become urla. 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 parsha (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 urel (uncircumcised male). We find that Hashem spoke to Avraham many times before this episode, so 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 his commandment to be circumcised the foreskin was not considered urla, 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 urel.
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 bris (covenant).
The Panim Yafos (who also authored the sefer Hafla'ah) on this pasuk offers another answer to this question. He says that the prohibition of not wounding oneself extends to binai Noach as well. Therefore prior to being commanded, Avraham could not perform a bris mila 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 himself 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 mila today if it is in fact a violation of 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 mila we can apply the rule of assay docheh lo sassay and 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 his being commanded to do so since we cannot apply the rule of assay doche lo sassay before there was command to do that assay.
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Posted By KH to KollelH blog at 11/03/2011 09:07:00 PM