Parashat Lech Lecha: The Circumcision and Binding of Yitzchak Trials

[Tal Chermon]


One of Avraham's tests was the command to circumcise himself and all his household, including eight-day old babies.  After the circumcisions, Hashem appeared to Avraham in the field of Mamre in order to visit the sick.  Of Avraham's three friends, Aner, Eshkol and Mamre, Hashem chose Mamre's field in which to appear to Avraham.  Our Sages relate that Avraham consulted with these friends on whether to perform the circumcisions or not.  Only Mamre advised him to go ahead and circumcise, which he indeed did (Bereshit Rabbah 42:8).  As a reward Hashem appeared to Avraham specifically in the field of Mamre.  The whole situation is rather puzzling.  Did Avraham really waver about fulfilling G-d's command to circumcise?  Was it the advice of some guy that finally convinced him?  The Vilna Gaon answers these questions with deep insight.  He explains that Avraham's raison d'etre was to redeem the world of its spiritual misery.  He spread monotheism, teaching mankind to desist from their barbaric and idolatrous ways and instead to serve G-d with refined morality and virtuous qualities.  And, suddenly, Hashem commands him to perform circumcisions!  This was very disconcerting.  How could he take a knife, cut into himself, and then take all of the babies of his household and mercilessly cut their flesh amid the screeching of hapless infants?  Avraham was convinced that this would appear to be the height of barbarity.  If he acted this way he would lose all of his influence over people.  They would say that he had become as insane as the barbaric idolaters and would therefore refuse to accept any further spiritual guidance from him.  True, Hashem had commanded him to circumcise himself in order to achieve personal perfection, but Avraham was willing to concede all this in order to be able to continue uplifting mankind out of its moral turpitude.  He was willing to sacrifice his own soul for the sake of the universal ideal.  So Avraham went to ask his gentile friends if in fact he would lose their respect if he went ahead with the circumcisions.  Eshkol and Aner advised him not to perform the circumcisions.  Mamre, however, a true idealist, convinced Avraham not to violate the Divine command.  So Avraham passed this test too and circumcised himself and all of his household.


According to this explanation of the Vilna Gaon, the Akeidah constitutes a far harsher and more demanding trial.  Avraham throughout his lifetime had tirelessly toiled to wean mankind away from its barbaric idolatry.  In the name of Hashem, he had travelled around calling upon them to cease the madness of burning their children in their idolatrous "Molech" worship.  And now suddenly, G-d commands him to slaughter his own son.  Perhaps people would be able to swallow circumcision, since no serious damage had been done.  But now he had been ordered to kill his son in the name of G-d.  If he performed this act, it was absolutely certain that this "hypocritical preacher" would be utterly rejected and would no longer have even the slightest spiritual influence on any of the non-Jews.  These were the thoughts that flashed through his mind on his way to Mt. Moriah.  But Avraham Avinu even triumphed in this trial and proceeded to perform Hashem's will out of implicit faith in Him.


A trial is a struggle against opposing forces.  The adversary is not always selfish, base and vulgar tendencies.  Sometimes, as in our case, one has to overcome aspiration that are idealistic, spiritual and lofty, but nonetheless misguided.  Avraham Avinu had shown that he was willing to sacrifice the ideals he believed in by performing the circumcisions.  This reached a peek when he agreed to the virtual annihilation of the Jewish Nation who were to come from his sacrificed son, Yitzchak, and to the resultant loss to the world of all the ideals that it was to bear.  His love of Hashem and implicit obedience to His commands overcame his personal aspirations – both material and spiritual.