This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmas
Vol. 24 No. 3
Zevulun Doron ben Shimon z"l
For a Thread & a Shoelace
(Based on the Torah Temimah)
" … That I will not take from you (as much as) a thread or a shoelace, or anything of yours, so that you shall not say, 'I enriched Avraham' " (14:23).
The Gemara in Sotah (Daf 17a) explains that, as a reward for 'a thread', Avraham was rewarded with the Mitzvah of Tzitzis, and for 'a shoelace', the Mitzvah of Tefilin.
Interestingly, already in last week's Parshah, Shem (No'ach's son) was rewarded for covering his father, with the Mitzvah of Tzitzis (See Rashi [9:23]).
Presumably, it was any one of Shem's descendants who were eligible to receive the reward for Shem's deed, and, from among all of Shem's descendants, Avraham now earned the distinction. Or perhaps Shem earned the Mitzvah of Tzitzis, and Avraham, that of Techeiles - since it is 'a thread of Techeiles' that the Gemara in Sotah specifically mentions. Incidentally, based on the fact that the Gemara says 'a thread of Techeiles', the Torah Temimah supports the opinion of the Rambam - that only one thread of Techeiles is required, as opposed to the two threads required by Rashi.
It is not initially clear as to what Avraham did to deserve such a rich reward. Rashi in Sotah ascribes it to the fact that he desisted from the gift offered him by the King of S'dom, since that would have entailed stealing from the people of S'dom. But the Torah Temimah queries this, based on the Halachah that what one captures in war is fair game and is not considered theft. And besides, he asks, what is so meritorious about not stealing? On the contrary, we would have been very surprised to learn that the Tzadik Avraham had stolen!
The author attempts to modify Rashi's explanation! True, he explains, that what one captures in war is permitted; nevertheless, where Kidush Hashem is involved, one is morally obligated to return it. And since Avraham's intention was clearly to sanctify G-d's Name, he returned the spoil, down to the last thread and shoelace - and that is the theft to which Rashi is referring. (Note, all the current explanations appear to clash with Avraham's true motive, as mentioned in the Pasuk itself.)
In an alternative explanation to that of Rashi, the Torah Temimah explains Avraham's decision to return the spoil to the many faceted miracles that he experienced in the course of the battle against the four kings:-
1). The fact that he defeated four powerful armies with a mere 318 men (some say with just Eliezer (whose Gematriyah is 318) was in itself a miracle.
2). The Medrash explains that the angels and the stars fought on Avraham's behalf.
3). And the Gemara in Ta'anis (Daf 23a) writes that the arrows that Avraham shot at the enemy were in fact, earth that he flung at them, which turned into arrows - each arrow finding its mark (Ta'anis, 21a).
And the Gemara there (24a) rules that one is forbidden to derive benefit from miracles. Hence he opted to return all that he captured to the King of S'dom. In effect, he attributed to G-d what was rightfully His, by acknowledging that the victory belonged to Him, so G-d rewarded him with the Mitzvah of Techeiles, which likewise, reminds the wearer of G-d's uniqueness.
Indeed, one of Avraham's outstanding characteristics was that of projecting G-d as Master of the World, as portrayed by numerous stories of Avraham's interaction with the many people with whom he came into contact. Chazal, at the end of Parshas No'ach point out that whereas No'ach went with Hashem, Avraham went before Hashem - to spread His Name among the people.
Bearing in mind the above, it is hardly surprising therefore, that the author of 'Adon Olam' (which portrays G-d's Omnipotence), is purported to be Avraham Avinu.
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The Bris Milah
(Adapted from the 'Yalkut Yitzchak')
Why the Mitzvah of Milah?
G-d gave signs to the Kosher animals, birds and fish to distinguish them from their non-Kosher counterparts (see Parshas Shemini). In the same way, says the Nachalas Binyamin, he placed a mark of distinction on Avraham Avinu and his descendants, the Kosher nation that chose to go in his ways.
The Tanchumah, however, explains that G-d did not give the Mitzvah to Adam ha'Rishon, because for Adam to have to have to perfect himself (the essence of the Mitzvah) would have required G-d to create him imperfect. And that is logically impossible, as since G-d is perfect, it follows that His creations had to be perfect too.
So why did He not then give the Mitzvah to Adam to pass on to His children?
Because He foresaw that in the generation of the Mabul, it would fall into disrepute, and would need to be re-instated afterwards. He therefore preferred to wait until after the Flood and to then command it to Avraham Avinu.
Alternatively, prior to Avraham, even the Tzadikim of the caliber of Adam, Chanoch, No'ach and Shem did not live up to the principles that the Bris Milah embodies, or at least they failed ro pass them on to their children. The first person to both implement them and pass them on to his children was Avraham Avinu - as the Pasuk indicates in Vayeira (18:19).
If G-d wanted Yisrael to have the Bris Milah,
why did He not create them already circumcised?
This is the very question that Turnusrufus (a Roman dignitary) asked Rabbi Akiva, who replied that most people don't eat raw kernels - G-d created them raw for man to perfect. And just as He left man to perfect his material needs, so too, did He leave him room to perfect himself spiritually - a concept that is hinted in the Mitzvah of Bris Milah (Korban Eliyahu).
Another answer offered by the Nachalas Binyamin is - had G-d created all Jews (exclusively) circumcised (besides clashing with the principle that the world takes its normal course and does not run on miracles), it would have encouraged belief in two gods - one who created Jews, the other, gentiles.
Another possible answer is based on the sensitivities of converts. Imagine their embarrassment when they discovered that, whereas they were circumcised by man, those who were born Jews were circumcised by G-d Himself.
The Minhag to arrange a chair for Eliyahu (Kisei shel Eliyahu) at a Bris is based on the following Pirkei de'R. Eliezer …
When, after Eliyahu fled from Achav and Izevel, who wanted to kill him, G-d asked what he was doing hiding in a cave, he replied that he was zealous on His behalf, because the people had forsaken the Bris Milah.
G-d responded 'By your life, because you were zealous about the Milah, whenever Yisrael perform a Bris, you will be present to testify that they have performed it' (Mateh Moshe).
It seems that not only is Eliyahu present at every Bris, but that he heals the baby from the wound.
The story is told of a father who delayed the Bris of his son in order to name him after his father, who lay dying in the next room. Upon arriving at the venue of the Bris, R. Shlomoh Kluger asked why they were waiting. Despite the father's reasoning, he ordered him to perform the Bris without further delay.
He later explained that, since Eliyahu had come down to heal the baby, he would surely heal the grandfather at the same time. And indeed, against all odds, he recovered.
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