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Thought for the Day: Avraham Avinu Becomes the First Jew

Avraham Avinu was careful with all the mitzvos.  As his understanding of what HaShem wanted from mankind deepened, so to his avodas HaShem increased.  But Avraham Avinu was cognizant also of his status; or, better, lack of status.  Was he a Jew or not?  This was not simply a philosophical question for our illustrious ancestor; it led to some very practical problems.  For example, a Jew is obligated to keep Shabbos while a goy is forbidden to keep Shabbos.  The s'farim say he navigated that one by wearing a garment with tzitzis while taking walks outside on Shabbos.  How does that help?  If he was a Jew and obligated in tzitzis, then they are part of his clothing.  If he was a goy, then the tzitzis are just strings and walking outside violates the m'lacha of carrying.

But if Avraham Avinu knew that, then certainly he knew also knew that is is assur for a goy to learn torah sh'b'al peh.  Given that all of the m'lachos of Shabbos are torah sh'b'al peh, then... how did Avraham know how to avoid navigate the m'lachos so deftly?  The answer is obvious, but it is worth spelling out carefully.  Why is it assur for a goy to learn torah sh'b'al peh?  It is a d'rash on the pasuk, "Torah tzvi lanu Moshe, morasha k'hilas Yaakov" -- Moshe command the Torah to us; an inheritance to the congregation of Yaakov.  Say Chazal: don't read "morasha" (inheritance), read "m'urasa" (betrothed).  So the torah sh'b'al peh is only assur to a goy after the betrothal.  That is, with the start of the Avos.  Which neatly answers whether the Avos were Jews or not.  They were between... just as there is a stage of betrothal between a single woman and eishes ish, there is a stage between goy and Jew.  HaShem, so to speak, betrothed us at the time of the Avos and that relationship was consummated at Har Sinai.

Which brings us to the third reason that Avraham Avinu waited to circumcise himself.  Just as only the betrothed can become the wife, so to only an Av can become a Jew.  That's the reason the Brisker Rav gives for Avraham Avinua waiting.  It wasn't waiting till a certain time, it was waiting to be invited.  Avraham had to be invited to perform bris mila before it was even relevant.  By the same token, HaShem was waiting for Avram to be ready to become Avraham Avinu.

Bris mila is different than all the other mitzvos.  All the other mitzvos are fulfilling the conditions of our chosen (from both sides!) relationship.  Bris mila is entering into that relationship.


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