Lasting Effect

October 27, 2017 at 2:45 AM , , ,

“…And my covenant shall be in your flesh as an everlasting covenant…” – Bereishit 17:13

והיתה בריתי בבשרכם לברית עולם – בראשית יז, יג

“Our father Avraham observed the entire Torah before it was given,” says the Talmud (Kiddushin 82a). Chassidus explains, however, that the mitzvos our forefathers observed of their own initiative did not have the ability to impact and transform the physical world in a lasting way. After their observance of any particular “future mitzvah”, the objects with which they fulfilled the mitzvah remained mundane as before (see also Shir Hashirim Rabbah 1:3).

In contrast, when a mitzvah is performed upon G-d’s command, the holiness drawn into the world through the fulfillment of that mitzvah becomes part of the reality of the physical object with which the mitzvah was performed. For example, the physical tefillin that a Jew wears become holy, maintaining their holiness even after they are removed from one’s head or arm.

Still, our Sages tell us that the actions of our ancestors, and the events that transpired in their lives, pioneered the way for their descendants’ destiny (see Ramban on Bereishis 12:6; Bereishis Rabbah 40:6). In a spiritual sense, this means that the mitzvos performed by our forefathers grant us the ability to fulfill mitzvos today. As such, it was crucial that G-d instruct our forefathers to observe at least one mitzvah, granting it the ability to impact the physical reality in the same manner as those later observed by the Jewish people. In this way, all the mitzvos of our forefathers would have an association with those performed after the giving of the Torah and could serve as their precedent.

lasting-effect

This unique mitzvah was bris milah, circumcision, which distinguishes itself because the mitzvah and holiness it imparts remain imprinted on the flesh of the physical body forever. As G-d told Avraham, “My covenant shall be in your flesh as an everlasting covenant.”

That is why Avraham waited to circumcise himself until G-d instructed him to do so (when he was 99 years old), rather than doing so earlier on his own initiative. Through G-d’s command, our forefathers’ observance of this mitzvah was endowed with the ability to imbue lasting holiness in the physical and material, akin to the effect of every mitzvah that a Jew performs today—after G-d commanded and gave us the entire Torah.

 

—Likutei Sichos, vol. 3, pp. 757-759

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