Parashas Vayeira

This week’s parashah opens as follows (Bereishis 18:1): “And Hashem appeared to him in the plains of Mamre, while he was sitting at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day.” Regarding Avraham’s location “at the entrance of the tent,” the Midrash expounds (Bereishis Rabbah 48:8):
A fine entranceway you have provided for the goers and comers; a fine entranceway you have provided for converts, for, were it not for you, I would not have created heaven and earth, of which it is written (Yeshayah 40:22): “And He stretched them forth like a tent for dwelling.”
Here, the Midrash is interpreting “entrance of the tent” as meaning “entranceway to heaven and earth,” which the quoted verse likens to a tent. The Midrash says that Avraham provided an entranceway for converts. The Maggid asks: Of what entranceway are the Sages speaking?
He explains as follows. Avraham had just finished performing bris milah on himself and the members of his household. Regarding bris milah the Gemara states (Nedarim 32a): “Great is bris milah, for, were it not for bris milah, heaven and earth would not remain in existence.” The mitzvah of bris milah, as we know, is one of the foundations of Torah observance. Hashem therefore arranged to ease the way to fulfillment of this mitzvah, so that it would not meet with resistance and be neglected, far be it. He commanded that a Jewish baby boy undergo a bris milah on his eighth day of life. The father, although he might hesitate in subjecting his son to circumcision out of a tenderhearted desire not to cause the baby pain, is expected to overcome this hesitation and do what Hashem commanded. The son, for his part, although he feels pain while he is being circumcised, is unable to protest or stop the circumcision from being carried out. This system ensures that every Jewish male will bear the holy sign of bris milah, much more easily that would be if Hashem has specified that the bris milah be performed in adulthood.
Now, the law is that someone can perform a bris milah on someone else only if he himself has undergone bris milah, as our Sages infer from the double verb המול ימול in the Torah passage presenting the mitzvah of milah. It logically follows that the first to undergo milah would have to perform it on himself in adulthood. After this first self-done milah, then, and only then, would the way be open for fathers to perform milah on their infant sons. Avraham was the one who opened the way, and for this we owe him tremendous thanks.
When the Midrash speaks of “goers and comers,” we can say that it is referring to the succession of generations, along the lines of Shlomo HaMelech’s saying that “a generation goes, and a generation comes” (Koheles 1:4), Avraham provided the opening for those of a new generation to be circumcised by those of the previous generation. He provided, as well, the opening for converts – those wishing to enter the covenant with Hashem as a member of the Jewish People – to be circumcised by a mohel rather than having to circumcise themselves.
With thanks to Hashem for His great kindness, I am happy to announce the engagement of my son Yosef to Tamar Rohb of Rishon L’Tziyon.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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