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WHY ARE YOU WAITING?

by the editorial department    
of Torah from Dixie    

Many of the commentators throughout the centuries have discussed the following question: The Talmud tells us that the Patriarchs and Matriarchs kept all of the mitzvot even before the Torah was officially given to the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai.

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Many of the commentators throughout the centuries have discussed the following question: The Talmud tells us that the Patriarchs and Matriarchs kept all of the mitzvot even before the Torah was officially given to the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai. If so, why did Hashem have to specifically command Abraham in this week's portion to fulfill the mitzvah of brit milah, circumcision? If he kept the entire Torah anyway, he should have already fulfilled the mitzvah even before receiving a direct command! The commentaries offer many interesting answers, several of which are as follows:

We have a general principle that an action performed in response to a Divine command is greater and more praiseworthy than one performed without such a command. Most mitzvot are done more than once in a lifetime. Matzah is eaten every year, the Shema prayer is recited every day, etc. As such, the forefathers' keeping those mitzvot before receiving a direct command would not preempt the future possibility of fulfilling them in their optimal form after receiving a command. Every year and every day is a new opportunity for a mitzvah. However, unlike other mitzvot in the Torah, brit milah can only be done once in a lifetime. Abraham therefore waited for Hashem to command that he circumcise himself so that he could fulfill the mitzvah in its optimal form.

Another suggestion is that we are prohibited from inflicting any kind of wound on our bodies. As a result, the commentators say Abraham may have been prohibited from performing a brit milah without receiving a direct command because doing so would transgress the negative commandment against wounding oneself.

One more answer: The Talmud derives from a verse in the Torah that only somebody who is himself obligated in the mitzvah of brit milah can perform one on another person. A woman or a gentile-people who are not commanded in the mitzvah of brit milah-cannot perform one on another person. Hence, it has been suggested that Abraham could not possibly perform a brit milah on himself before receiving a command, since somebody not obligated in the mitzvah is halachically incapable of doing so.

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the editorial staff writes from Atlanta

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