As a means of increasing the capacity of the human to bond with his Creator,
G-d gave Avraham (Abraham) the mitzvah (Divine commandment) of milah
(circumcision). This surgery involves removal of the "orlah", a term which
does not so much designate a part of the anatomy as much as it refers to a
barrier which inhibits our spiritual growth. "You shall circumcise the flesh
of your orlah [commonly translated as 'foreskin'] and that shall be the sign
of the covenant between Me and you." (Beraishis/Genesis 17:11) The Torah
notes that Avraham performed milah on himself "on that very day" (17:23 &
26). Rashi explains that the exceptional wording refers to Avraham's
conviction to perform the commandment immediately, not to wait until it was
dark. A later hour would have allowed his enemies and others of his era to
claim, "If we would have seen, we would have prevented him from fulfilling
the Divine will."
We find this unique wording of "on that very day" in the episodes of Noah's
entry into the ark, the Children of Israel's exodus from Egypt and Moshe's
climbing Mount Nevo to die. Rashi explains that these three are similar as
all three had antagonists who did not want these events to occur and could
have threatened to prevent them. But the masses did not smash the ark, the
Egyptians did harm one Jew as they left slavery and the Jewish nation could
do nothing to stop Moshe's demise. In all three cases, G-d's design was
realized. But why does Rashi only link those three together? Why is
Avraham's fulfillment of the Divine will despite the potential objections of
others not included? And why is there a need to say "on that very day"
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986; Rosh Yeshiva/Dean of Mesivtha Tifereth
Jerusalem in New York City; the leading Halachic/Jewish legal decisor and
foremost leader of Torah Jewry of his time) clarifies that, unlike the other
three incidents linked by Rashi, Avraham's milah was really his own personal
affair, an issue that did not directly effect the greater public.
Additionally, they were not so evil as to spitefully prevent the completion
of his charge. Rather, despite the fact they would not stop him, they would
ridicule him - an incredibly powerful deterrent. Avraham needed spiritual
reinforcement. Akin to the teaching of our Sages (Tractate Mo'ed Kattan 27a)
that a transgression performed twice accustoms one to embrace the misdeed as
permissible, similarly, performing numerous times in the face of scoffers
habituates one to fulfill G-d's will with ease in adverse conditions.
Avraham's completion of milah on the multiple members of his household -
alluded to by the multiple references to "that very day" - habituated him to
not cower under the glare of others.
The knowledge that G-d has given us the mitzvos as a gift with which we
forge our connection to Him is a powerful motivator. The skeptical stare of
others can be a powerful counterforce. Our spiritual "muscles" of motivation
and resolve need advance training and conditioning if they are to perform
properly in our times of challenge.