The following drasha was given at the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo on Shabbat Lech Lecha by Rabbi Yaacov Haber, and transcribed from memory by David Sher.
This weeks Torah portion describes how Abraham performed the Mitzvah of Bris Milah on himself.
Our sages list this as one of the ten trials that Abraham went through along with being thrown in the fiery furnace, and so on. Rashi brings down that when Abraham began to do this mitzvah he was so afraid his hand was shaking. So G-d reached down and steadied his hand and they did the mitzvah together.
Now it is difficult to understand why this mitzvah is so difficult. Today when we do a bris we worry more about the appetizers than that the bris won’t go well. Now of course it was harder in that Abraham was an adult and this was the first one. If G-d gave the order to me, I would have hesitated! But this was Abraham who had dedicated his whole life to serving G-d. How can a little bit of self surgery compare to being thrown into a fiery furnace!
I think that the problem is that we understand the test wrong. What worried Abraham wasn’t the surgery. You see one of the big things about Abraham is that he was the first to teach about G-d. When he left for Canaan he took with him the thousands of souls he had taught. He reasoned that one of the reasons he was effective was that people would look at him and say “Look at that guy, Abraham, just like me, but by believing in G-d look how meaningful his life has become.” His followers were encouraged by his example to be like him.
Now that G-d had given him this mitzvah they’d look and say, “Look at that guy Abraham, he is not like us at all! He did surgery on himself! That’s weird! I couldn’t do that.” Abraham was worried that by doing this mitzvah he’d lose the ability to teach and to relate, the very thing he devoted his life to doing.
But consider what Abraham was teaching, what he exemplified. What he taught was listening to G-d. Now G-d tells him circumcise himself, he’s going to reply “but that’s not a good idea! how can I teach people to obey you if I obey you in this respect.” He couldn’t exemplify emuna unless he showed some here too.
What G-d was testing was if Abraham was for real. They say that if you want to make a lot of money now a days start a religion. Television preachers make millions. So was Abraham in it for the glory, the honor of having many disciples. Or was he following G-d just because it is right, even if by following G-d he would lose every disciple!
People used to tell me that a certain mitzvah didn’t feel right to them, that they couldn’t get into it. I used to try to spice it up, to flesh it out for them. But as I got older and lazier I began to respond that I don’t make the rules. That I don’t decide what is and what isn’t a mitzvah. I’m just in “sales”, not in management. You have to trust that the mitzvahs are designed to be good for you, and take G-d at his word. You have to have faith in the torah.