Vol 5.08 - Vayeira                  Spanish French Audio  Video

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(5730) "Now the L-rd appeared to him" - "to visit the sick. It was the third day from his circumcision " (Gen. 18:1, Rashi Tal Bava Metzia 86b).

The necessity of performing a Mitzvah within the confines of nature  


Performing Mitzvos - The Natural Approach
The Torah portion of Vayeira opens with the words: “G‑d revealed Himself to Avraham.”1 The Gemara2 comments that this took place on the third day following Avraham’s circumcision; on that day, G‑d visited him to inquire after his welfare. How does the Gemara deduce that this took place on the third day and not earlier?

The ability of the Jewish people to perform Torah and mitzvos subsequent to Mattan Torah , the Giving of the Torah, derives from the performance of the commandments by the nation’s forbears, for “the deeds of the Patriarchs are a sign unto their progeny.”3 However, the mitzvos performed by the Patriarchs were mainly spiritual in nature, and did not have a great effect on the objects involved. In contrast, the mitzvos performed after Mattan Torah permeate physical objects with holiness.

In order that there be a relationship between the mitzvos fulfilled by the Patriarchs and those performed by their descendants, it was necessary that at least one mitzvah be fulfilled by the Patriarchs in exactly the manner that would later be employed by their descendants. This was the mitzvah of circumcision.

One of the main aspects of the mitzvos subsequent to Mattan Torah is their performance in as natural a manner as possible, without recourse to miracles and the like. This is because mitzvos are meant to refine the world by causing sanctity to enter it, rather than miraculously negating its physicality.

This requirement to perform a mitzvah in the most natural manner possible also applies to the preparations necessary for its performance,4 as well as to its effects.

Understandably, when a mitzvah, the preparation or the results thereof, involve natural difficulties, one should not use supernatural means in order to remove these difficulties. Of course, one should not seek out discomfort and hindrances, but if these are a natural part of a mitzvah or its aftermath, they should not be circumvented by supernatural means.

Since Avraham’s circumcision was entirely similar to the mitzvah performed after Mattan Torah , it follows that no miraculous intervention should have been involved in the Patriarch’s natural healing process.

Accordingly, we must understand how it was that the angel Raphael — the angel of healing5 — came to Avraham in order to heal him.6 Why would G‑d send a special messenger to alleviate our Patriarch’s natural discomfort?

The Rambam7 explains that the term “angels” also applies to natural forces. The reason for this is that all things below have a spiritual source above.8 Since the forces of nature descend from angels, they are sometimes called angels — after their source.

It therefore follows that every natural healing derives from the angel Raphael, albeit after a tremendous descent from the spiritual to the physical, until the angel’s action is vested within the physical garments of nature and manifests itself in the specific recovery of a particular individual.

Most people are only capable of seeing the specific healing vested within nature. Avraham, however, was able to perceive the spiritual source of his healing — “he beheld three ‘people,’ ”9 one of them being the angel Raphael. Avraham’s recovery was thus entirely natural; he merely observed the healing at its source.

Therefore, we must say that Raphael came to heal Avraham only on the third day following Avraham’s circumcision, when healing takes place naturally; coming any earlier would have interfered with the natural process. Since Raphael came to Avraham on the same day that G‑d appeared to him, it follows that G‑d’s appearance was also on the third day.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. V, pp. 77-83

1.    Bereishis 18:1.
2.    Bava Metzia 86b.
3.    See Toras Chayim, Lech 83c ff.; Likkutei Sichos, Vol. I, p. 41; Vol. III, p. 758. Cf. Ramban, Lech 12:6 and Bereishis Rabbah 40:6.
4.    See Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. IIII, p. 753a.
5.    Midrash Konein; Yalkut Reuveni, Bereishis. Cf. Zohar, Vol. I, p. 26b.
6.    Bava Metzia 87b; commentary of Rashi , Bereishis 18:2.
7.    Moreh Nevuchim 2:10.
8.    See Bereishis Rabbah 10:6; Zohar, Vol. I, p. 251a.
9.    Bereishis 18:2.


Necessary Pain

G‑d appeared to Avraham in the plains of Mamre three days after his circumcision while he was sitting at the entrance of the tent looking for passersby to welcome in the heat of the day. -- Breshis 18:1

Classic Questions

Why did G‑d reveal Himself to Avraham? (v. 1)
Rashi: To visit the sick. Rabbi Chama bar Chanina said: It was the third day from Avraham's circumcision, and G‑d came to inquire about his welfare.

Mizrachi: Why did G‑d wait until the third day after his circumcision to visit Avraham? Because on the first day Avraham was busy circumcising Yishma'el and all the members of his house­hold, so G‑d did not visit him. G‑d then chose to visit him on the third day and not the second, since the third day after circumcision is particularly dangerous, whereas the second day is not.

Ohr haChayim: The Shulchan Aruch rules that "friends and relat­ives are allowed to visit a sick person immediately, whereas others must wait three days" (Yoreh De'ah 335:1). The reason for this is because the immediate presence of anyone but a friend or relative would publicly declare the person as being sick, which is not good for his mazal (fortune).

Even though G‑d is a relative, so to speak, of every Jew, nevertheless a visit from G‑d is a highly public affair. Therefore, in this respect, G‑d could not be considered a relative, and therefore He waited before visiting Avraham.

Ramban: G‑d revealed himself to Avraham in order to heal him. The Divine revelation was a cure for the sickness caused by his circumcision, as the verse states, "In the light of the King's countenance there is life" (Proverbs 16:15).

The Rebbe's Teachings
Why did G‑d wait Three days?

Mizrachi argues that G‑d waited until the third day after Avraham's circumcision to visit him because the third day in particular is a dangerous time. However, this solution is problematic since:

The question of whether the second or third day is more dangerous is disputed by the Talmudic commentaries. Thus, Mizrachi's solution would only be valid according to those opinions which hold that the third day is more dangerous than the second. According to the other opinions, that the second day is more dangerous, an explanation is still required. (In fact, Rashi himself, in his commentary to the Talmud, rules in accordance with this latter opinion Shabbos 134b.)

The mitzvah of visiting the sick applies to all sick people, and not only those who are in severe danger. So, even if one does accept Mizrachi's assertion that the third day is more dangerous, it still fails to explain why G‑d did not visit Avraham on the second day after his circumcision, even if it was a less dangerous time.
Ohr haChayim argues that G‑d did not visit Avraham immediately so as not to attract attention.

However, this is difficult to accept since:

It is certainly within G‑d's capability to visit a person privately. G‑d is not forced to appear in a public manner.

Verse 1 states that G‑d appeared during "the heat of the day," and on these words Rashi comments, "G‑d took the sun out of its sheath so as not to trouble him with guests." From this we see that nobody was present in any case when "G‑d appeared to Avraham," and that it was indeed a private affair.
We are thus left with the question: Why did G‑d wait until the third day before visiting Avraham?

The Explanation

We can solve the above problem by first posing an additional question:

The act of circumcision was the first—and only—mitzvah that Avraham performed with his body. With it he entered, together with all his future descendants, into a holy covenant with G‑d. It represented an unprecedented leap in his own Divine service, towards which he had been heading his entire life.

So why did he feel pain at all? Surely, Avraham should have been so overwhelmed with joy at receiving the mitzvah of circumcision that he would not have felt any pain?

In fact, we find in Jewish law that although it is generally prohibited to fast on Shabbos (since it is a time when a person may not cause himself suffering), a person who experienced a bad dream is permitted to fast on Shabbos to annul the dream. This is because its annulment through fasting actually causes him pleasure, not suffering, because the dream is so distressing (see Shulchan Aruch Admor Hazakein, Orach Chaim 288:3).

Now, if this spiritual alleviation of physical distress is possible even by an ordinary person—since the Code of Jewish Law speaks to the average person—then all the more so would we expect Avraham to feel only joy at his circumcision, and not pain?

Furthermore, in the Midrash, when Rabbi Levi expressed such a view, that Avraham felt no pain, he was personally insulted by his colleague Rabbi Abba bar Kahana, who called him a "liar and a cheater." Surely, Rabbi Abba bar Kahana could have made a more dignified response? What was the need for such harsh language?

The solution to all the above problems lies in the fact that the sensation of pain is actually a fundamental part of the mitzvah of circumcision. The verse states, "My covenant should be in your flesh" (above, 17:13), which suggests that the flesh itself should feel the effects of the mitzvah. A failure to feel pain would mean that G‑d's covenant had not properly penetrated the flesh of man.

Consequently, if Avraham would not have felt pain while, and as a result of, circumcising himself, then he would not have been observing the mitzvah properly. Therefore, despite his great joy and spiritual elation, Avraham forced himself to be aware of the natural pain which his body was experiencing, so that G‑d's covenant should penetrate the physical body.

This is why Rabbi Abba bar Kahana reacted so vociferously to Rabbi Levi's claim that Avraham felt no pain. Without a physical feeling in the flesh, the covenant of circumcision loses its significance. Therefore, Rabbi Abba bar Kahana felt the need to negate such a notion as sharply as possible.

Based on the above, we can now explain Rashi's words that G‑d waited until the third day before visiting Avraham:

Ramban writes that when "G‑d appeared to Avraham," he was instantly healed by the Divine revelation.

Therefore, if G‑d had revealed Himself to Avraham earlier, he would have been immediately healed, and he would not have felt the pain associated with the mitzvah to a sufficient degree. Only after Avraham had experienced the pain of circumcision in his physical flesh for a prolonged period did G‑d reveal himself to him, causing a miraculous recovery.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 5, p. 80ff; vol. 10, p. 48; Sefer Hasichos 5750, p. 104ff.)




Vayeira - Chof Cheshvan pp. 86-90

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