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Lech Lecha(Genesis 12-17)

The One-Time Sin

Due to a famine in the land of Canaan, Avraham and Sarah decided to travel to Egypt. As they approached the border between the two countries, Avraham became aware of Sarah's beauty and began to worry that the Egyptians would want to marry her and would kill him in order to do so. Commenting on Avraham's concern, the Midrash Pliah cryptically comments that "from here we derive that it is permitted to slaughter an animal on Shabbos to feed a sick person." What is the connection between these two seemingly unrelated topics?

In his commentary on Yoma (85a), the Ran questions why it is permitted to slaughter an animal on Shabbos so that a sick person may have kosher food to eat, when it is also possible to feed him readily available non-kosher meat? Although it is certainly preferable to eat kosher food, why should it be permissible to perform a more severe sin of desecrating Shabbos when it is possible to transgress the lesser sin of eating non-kosher food?

The Ran answers that although slaughtering an animal on Shabbos is indeed more severe, it need be performed only one time. On the other hand, the prohibition against eating non-kosher food, while not as great a sin, will be transgressed repeatedly with each kezayis (olive-sized portion) that is consumed. Although each individual bite is less severe than desecrating Shabbos, the cumulative effect of all of them is actually greater. For this reason, it is preferable to perform a one-time sin, no matter how great, of slaughtering an animal in order to save the sick person's life.

Commenting on our verse, the Daas Z'keinim questions: If Avraham was sure that the Egyptians wouldn't transgress the prohibition against having relations with a married woman, why wasn't he equally confident that they would observe the commandment forbidding murder? In light of the explanation of the Ran, the Chanukas HaTorah and Rabbi Yosef Engel explain that Avraham feared that the Egyptians would desire to have relations with his beautiful wife. Although they would prefer not to violate any of the seven Noahide commandments, given their lust for Sarah they would choose to do so in the manner which would minimize the extent of their sins.

Given the choice between committing the one-time heinous sin of murdering Avraham in order to render Sarah a single and permissible woman, or repeatedly transgressing the lesser sin of adultery each time they would have relations, Avraham understood that they would clearly choose the former, and hence he feared for his life. Recognizing the underlying logic behind Avraham's fear, the Midrash was able to apply this reasoning to the case of the sick patient on Shabbos and to conclude - just as the Ran did - that it is permissible to slaughter an animal once on Shabbos so that he may be saved from repeatedly eating forbidden food.

* * *

AVRAHAM AND SHACHARIS

The Talmud (Brachot 7b) derives from Genesis 15:8 that Avraham was the first person in history to call God "Adone," Master. In the days of the Vilna Gaon, the author of a new commentary on the Siddur brought his manuscript to the Gaon to solicit his comments and to request a letter of approbation. The Gaon began to examine the work and noticed an original insight explaining why the morning prayers begin with Adone Olam.

The Talmud (Brachot 26b) teaches that each of the Patriarchs instituted one of the daily prayers: Avraham enacted Shacharis, Yitzhak originated Mincha, and Yaakov introduced Ma'ariv. Since the morning prayers were instituted by Avraham, who was the first person to refer to God as "Adone," we begin Shacharis with Adone Olam. Upon reading this, the Gaon was overcome with joy and remarked that if only for the beauty of this one insight, the publication of the entire work would be justified!

In a similar vein, the Meshech Chochmah explains why we are accustomed to wear a Tallis and Tefillin only during the morning prayers, even though both are applicable the entire day. After miraculously defeating the armies of the four kings, Avraham brought back all of the people and possessions which had been taken captive. The King of Sodom suggested that Avraham return to him the people while keeping the possessions for himself.

Lest the wicked king of Sodom take credit for making him rich, Avraham refused to accept any gifts, emphatically swearing (Genesis 14:23) that he wouldn't accept even a thread or a shoe-strap. The Talmud (Sotah 17a) teaches that in the merit of this statement, Avraham's descendants received the mitzvot of Tallis and Tefillin. Although they may be worn the entire day, because we merited receiving them through the actions of Avraham, we are accustomed to commemorate this by wearing them during the morning prayers which he instituted!

* * *

THE ONGOING MITZVAH OF CIRCUMCISION

Is the mitzvah of circumcision (Genesis 17:12) performed only once in one's life at the time of the cutting off of the foreskin, or is the mitzvah continuously fulfilled every second of one's life that he remains circumcised?

The Mahara"ch Ohr Zarua (11) writes that the mitzvah of circumcision is not completed with the removal of the foreskin, but continues every moment of one's life that he is circumcised. As proof, he quotes the Talmud (Menachos 43b) which teaches that King David was once in the bathhouse and grew concerned that he was lacking any mitzvot at that moment - until he realized that his circumcision constituted a mitzvah he was presently performing. The Ma'adanei Asher (5769) notes that this proof is even stronger in light of the Talmud (Sotah 10b) which teaches that King David was born already circumcised.

The Beis HaLevi (Vol. 2 47:4) explains that the mitzvah of bris mila actually consists of two different mitzvot: the act of circumcising the 8-day-old child which is derived from Genesis 17:12, and an additional mitzvah of being circumcised at every moment of one's life - which constitutes a continual covenant with God which is derived from Genesis 17:13.

The Chavatzeles HaSharon suggests that according to this opinion, one who neglected to recite a blessing over the mitzvah of bris mila at the time of the circumcision, should be permitted to say it when he realizes his mistake. However, he notes that the Tashbatz and Rabbi Yehuda Assad rule that after the circumcision has been completed, no blessing may be recited. (See also Pri Yitzhak 2:30.)

Published: October 30, 2011

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