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Rabbi Ari Enkin

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

Standing up for what we believe in and remaining strong in difficult and painful times is part of the Jewish DNA received from our forefather Abraham.

This week’s Torah portion is the action-packed Vayeira, (Genesis 18:1-22:24) and one of the events we read about is Abraham’s circumcision.

One will notice that Vayeira begins with the location of the events, which was, Elonei Mamrei, meaning, “the fields of Mamrei.” In today’s terms, that’s just outside of Hebron (the first capital city of the Jewish people!).

The commentators explain why that area was named in honor of the man known as Mamrei. When God told Abraham to circumcise himself, one can imagine that Abraham was quite nervous about the idea. Here we have a 99-year-old man who not only needs to be circumcised, but must do it himself! As such, Abraham turned to his friend Mamrei to request advice, support and encouragement.

Mamrei’s response: “Go for it! You have God on your side! No way are you going to lose out!”

As a result, Mamrei was honored with an area named in his honor – and called by that name to this day! Furthermore, God even chose to appear to Abraham in this special place in honor of Mamrei.

On the other hand, there were two other individuals with whom Abraham was friendly. Aner and Eshkol advised Avraham against performing the circumcision at such an advanced age. Fortunately, Abraham did not listen to them.

Was Abraham Seeking a Second Opinion?

But this begs the question: Is it remotely possible that a person such as Abraham could have ignored God’s command to circumcise himself no matter what anyone else may have said? Abraham’s faith in God was renowned and unwavering. Was Abraham seeking a second opinion? It is very hard to believe that Abraham may have considered not obeying God’s order to circumcise himself Indeed, we know that Avraham obeyed even more difficult instructions from God.

It is explained that Abraham had every intention to circumcise himself right from the beginning. His only doubt was whether or not he should make it public. His consulting with others was on this specific point only. It was Mamrei who encouraged Abraham to publicize his act of obedience and self-sacrifice.

Abraham was worried that if he publicized the fact that he circumcised himself, it might give a negative impression of God. He was worried that all his efforts to convert people to monotheism would be jeopardized if the world was introduced to a God that forces elderly men to perform such a painful act.

The result, however, was the reverse! The reason is because people respect those who proudly stand up for their convictions. When the world saw a 99-year-old man circumcise himself with no shame or hesitation, they realized that Judaism/monotheism must be something very special and meaningful.

Survival is Part of the Jewish DNA

Abraham’s many acts of self-sacrifice, such as his circumcision, are what have given the Jewish People the strength throughout generations to survive all the pogroms and persecutions inflicted upon them.

Standing up for what we believe in and remaining strong in difficult and painful times is part of the Jewish DNA received from our forefather Abraham.

For more insights by Rabbi Ari Enkin on this week’s Torah reading, click on the following links: