Vayera by Jeroen Reuven Bours
Parashat Vayera by Jeroen Reuven Bours.
Before Sinai versus after Sinai. Rambam, in Hilchot Melachim, chapter 9, writes that HaShem gave Adam six commandments. Later on, He gave Noah a seventh and to Avraham in his 99th year, He gave the eighth commandment - that of the Brit Milah. Rashi, points out in Nedarim, 32a (Bereshit 17:1) that it was HaShem’s way of making Avraham complete. Not only does G’d give to Avraham the commandment of the circumcision but he adds the words: “Be thou perfect,” clearly pointing out that Avraham had a chance to make himself complete at the age of 99 years. Since we know that the Noahide commandments were intended for all people, we also know that this eighth commandment, that of the circumcision, is intended for Avraham and his offspring only. That is precisely why “circumcision” is translated in Hebrew as “Brit Milah” or loosely translated back into English as “covenant circumcision.” Nowadays any parent can choose to circumcise their newborn son, but it is only a covenant if the parents are Bnei Israel or choose to become part of Am Israel. Our forefathers kept their commandments by their own will and strength. It must have taken enormous willpower to do so. Avraham started the morning prayer not because it was a commandment but because it was a natural and logical reaction to the way he lived. In essence, we follow the commandments given to us at Sinai as an answer to what HaShem expects of us. Our forefathers however, did not. They followed their hearts. In this Parashat, Avraham begs HaShem to wait to reveal himself until after he’s finished showing kindness to passersby. And HaShem waits for Avraham to finish. This is the sign that acts of kindness are supreme over receiving HaShem’s presence! At that moment Avraham was not following a mitzvah, he was only following his heart. Our intentions to complete mitvahs all stem from receiving the Torah at Sinai and the precise instructions that HaShem gave to Moshe. We are not commanded to peform the Brit Milah because Avraham did it first - we are commanded to do so because of Sinai. However, HaShem does recognize Avraham in front of Moshe by adding the words: “…as did Avraham.” (Rambam, Commentary to the Mishnah, Chulin 7:6). Even though our Patriarchs were not going by the book, they did have direct contact with HaShem. That honor is an immeasurably high honor. We cannot bluntly grant our Avot a greater degree of faith than any Jew who came after the Torah. We cannot compare degrees of faithfulness between those before the Torah and those after. For instance, how do you measure a person’s faithfulness in 1496 when he defies the Inquisition because of his strong Jewish identity? The choices were practical at that time; keep what you have by converting to Christianity or risk your life. Is this person as faithful as our Patriarchs were? The question is of course absurd, but the contradiction is there for us to notice. We can learn from the ways our Patriarchs followed their hearts and installed their own mitzvahs. There’s one commandment that stands out above all other. The commandment to go and take your son with the intention to offer him to G’d. This must be the most difficult of all commandments. You could say that it was a test. And sometimes the exact words; “…Elohim Nisah Eht-Avraham,” literally “…G’d did to Avraham,” are translated as “…G’d tested Avraham.” In any case, He did not ask Avraham. It was a challenge and a commandment. What is even more interesting is that the commandment required great preparation and a journey as well. Thereby making the time to comply longer and arguably open to a rebuttal from Avraham. It gave Avraham time to think. But Avraham only listened. It is the only commandment that was ever halted by HaShem from completion. It was a test after all. And HaShem had no further reason to doubt Avraham ever again. Avraham had shown complete faithfulness - long before Sinai.