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Why did Abraham ask for advice regarding fulfilling God’s commandment?

When Abraham approach his friends Aner and Eshkol, telling them that God commanded him to circumcise himself, they counseled him against it. They told him he that he was too old for such a surgery.

Then Abraham went to his friend Mamrei and asked him what he thought. Mamrei encouraged him to follow God’s command and to circumcise himself. He was very supportive of the idea. As a reward for his advice, God appeared to Abraham when he was on Mamrei’s property, as it says “The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oak trees of Mamrei.” (Genesis 18:1)

The question is asked:

Why did Abraham go and ask ANYONE advice about fulfilling God’s commandment? Would he really refuse God’s command if a bunch of idolatrous nomads would have told him not to go through with it? Was this a popularity contest? Of course not! So what’s going on?

It is explained that there is no question that Abraham would have fulfilled God’s command, regardless of the responses he received. The question on Abraham’s mind, however, was whether he should circumcise himself in a public ceremony (as is done today) or to do it privately. Only Mamrei encouraged him to do it publicly, as an act of sanctification (and publicization!) of God’s name. For this, Mamrei was rewarded with God publicly appearing to Abraham in his territory.

On a similar note, the question is asked why Abraham ask counsel about the circumcision from non-Jews. By this time Abraham already had a large following of devout Jews, so why didn’t he ask one of them? Why did he go to the idolaters for advice on the circumcision?

The answer to this question is powerful. It is explained that Abraham wanted it “on record” that even non-Jews acknowledge that circumcision is a good idea. This “endorsement” was especially powerful coming from idolaters who do not necessarily circumcise themselves, but nevertheless, accept the fact that the practice is valid.

Unfortunately, we always have Jews who try to “second guess” the Torah’s commandments and even ridicule them when it doesn’t “make sense” to them. So too, there are those who advocate “fitting in” with non-Jewish society and not being “different” and only engaging in things of which non-Jews approve. There are even Jews today who advocate against circumcision, calling it “cruel” and “barbaric.” Obviously, God doesn’t think circumcision is cruel or barbaric, and, phew, there are even some non-Jews who agree too.

Not only are Jews spiritually different than the non-Jewish world, we are physically different too! Although many non-Jews choose circumcision nowadays, we Jews (the boys at least!) have always been physically different from the non-Jewish world right from birth through circumcision.

We Jews are meant to be different. We are meant to lead by example. We are meant to inspire. We are meant to follow the Torah’s commandments no matter what anyone says or thinks. It’s something that is engraved on our bodies–literally!

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below;