Living Torah

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, rabbinic director, United with Israel

Abraham tried to influence others to believe in God and live a moral life. But he knew that in order to influence people, they have to be able to relate to you.

In this week’s Torah portion (Genesis 12:1–17:27) we read how Abraham was instructed to circumcise himself when he was 99 years old.

It is noted, however, that according to the Talmud and Midrash, Abraham was given a “sneak preview” and knew exactly what was in the Torah. He then went ahead and performed all the commandments in the Torah! In fact, we are told the he even observed the rabbinical commandments that were destined to be given in later generations!

According to this approach, why did Abraham not yet fulfill the very basic commandment of circumcision? Why did he wait until he was 99 years old, and why did he wait until God came out and explicitly told him to do it? Even more shocking is that even after Abraham was commanded to circumcise himself, he went and asked his friend Mamre whether he should comply with the command!

Clearly, Abraham was hesitant to circumcise himself. Why? What is going on over here?

Trying to Fit In

As mentioned in a prior Torah article, Abraham was a person who went out of his way to influence others to believe in God and live a moral life. He knew, however, that in order to influence people, the people have to be able to relate to you. Abraham was worried that if he would go and circumcise himself –being the only one around to do so—people might think that he was a real weirdo! He circumcised himself? What? Is he crazy? People would then keep away from him! His influence would then be severely limited if not on the brink of collapse.

This is why Abraham was hesitant to circumcise himself. He did not want to be so blatantly different from the people around him. He was already different with his monotheistic beliefs….but to make his body physically different from everyone else’s? That might have been too much.

Walking the Fine Line

And this is why he asked Mamre what to do. Mamre knew the ‘pulse’ of the people. He knew whether or not going ahead with the circumcision would destroy Abraham’s career in outreach.

This is the fine line that we all have to walk. In order to be able to influence people, we can’t be too different. On the other hand, we have to remain true and firm to our principles, especially to the mitzvot (commandments) of the Torah. Abraham was able to defer and postpone the mitzvah of circumcision, but only until God explicitly commanded him to do it.

We, too, have to find a way to influence those around us to believe in God and live moral lives, and the way to do so is to show the world that you can be normal, have fun,and lead meaningful lives. Although we must never compromise on the mitzvot of the Torah, there is no reason for us to be unnecessarily different from everyone else. We have the best of both worlds: a Torah life and a normal life!