Ten generations have passed since Noach. Man has descended spiritually. In the year 1948 from Creation, Avram is born. By observing the world, Avram comes to recognize G-ds existence, and thus merits that G-d appear to him. At the beginning of this weeks Torah portion G-d tells Avram to leave his land, his relatives and his father's house and travel to an unknown land where G-d will make him into a great nation. Avram leaves, taking with him his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, their servants, and those whom they converted to faith in G-d. When they reach the land of Canaan, G-d appears to Avram and tells him that this is the land that He will give to his descendants. A famine ensues and Avram is forced to relocate to Egypt to find food. Realizing that his wife's beauty could cause his death at the hand of the Egyptians, Avram asks her to say that she is his sister. Sarai is taken to Pharaoh, but G-d afflicts Pharaoh and his court with severe plagues and she is released unmolested. Avram returns to Eretz Yisrael (Canaan) with much wealth given to him by the Egyptians. During a quarrel over grazing rights between their shepherds, Avram decides to part ways with his nephew Lot. Lot chooses to live in the rich but corrupt city of Sodom in the fertile plain of the Jordan. A war breaks out between the kings of the region and Sodom is defeated. Lot is taken captive. Together with a handful of his converts, Avram rescues Lot, miraculously overpowering vastly superior forces, but Avram demurs from accepting any of the spoils of the battle. In a prophetic covenant, G-d reveals to Avram that his offspring will be exiled to a strange land where they will be oppressed for 400 years, after which they will emerge with great wealth and return to Eretz Yisrael, their irrevocable inheritance. Sarai is barren and gives Hagar, her Egyptian hand-maiden, to Avram in the hope that she will provide them with a child. Hagar becomes arrogant when she discovers that she is pregnant. Sarai deals harshly with her, and Hagar flees. On the instruction of an angel, Hagar returns to Avram, and gives birth to Yishmael. The weekly portion concludes with G-d commanding Avram to circumcise himself and his offspring throughout the generations as a Divine covenant. G-d changes Avrams name to Avraham, and Sarais name to Sarah. G-d promises Avraham a son, Yitzchak, despite Avraham being ninety-nine years old and Sarah ninety. On that day, Avraham circumcises himself, Yishmael and all his household.
A Present of the Future
“I will set My covenant between Me and you, and I will increase you most exceedingly.” (17:2)
In London during the War, a young Jewish mother whose husband was a fighter pilot gave birth to a baby boy. She lived many miles from London and she couldn’t find a mohel (circumciser). She called Dayan Yechezkel Abramsky of the London Beit Din for help. And so it was that Dayan Abramsky and a well-known mohel, who was also a Chassidic Rebbe, set off one fine morning to bring this little neshama into the covenant of Avraham Avinu.
They were walking up the path to the mother’s house when the Rebbe said to Dayan Abramsky, “Oi! I forgot my mila pouch with everything in it! What are we going to do now?” “Well,” said Dayan Abramsky, “there must be a chemist (drugstore) here in town. Let’s go and buy some razor blades.”
They walked into the chemist shop, highly identifiably as Jews. Dayan Abramsky had a splendid beard halfway down his chest and the Rebbe’s almost reached to waist.
“Excuse me,” said Dayan Abramsky to the man behind the counter, “do you have any razor blades?”
“Blimey!” said the shop keeper, “I’ve got razor blades, but not for beards the likes of what you’ve got!”
The Vilna Gaon points out that karet means “to cut”, to separate, while karet brit means “covenant” — something that brings together. (Interestingly we have the same idiom in English: ‘To cut a pact.’ Perhaps this stems from the Hebrew idiom.)
The Vilna Gaon explains that when two friends are to be separated and they want to be close despite the distance that will separate them, they each give to each other something very dear, and this cutting from oneself perpetuates their closeness.
Which begs the question, why is the cutting from that part of the body?
In the pact between G-d and the Avraham, Avraham gives G-d his most dear possession, his future. He pledges that he and his progeny will be dedicated to Him, and thus the mark of the covenant is on the place of the body that represents that future. (Interestingly the word for “womb” in Hebrew, rechem, can be rearranged to form the word, machar, meaning “tomorrow,” for it is that part of the body that contains the ‘tomorrow’ of a person.)
Reciprocally, G-d took His “future” in this world and pledged to Avraham that everything He, G-d, would be in this world, would be through the people of Avraham.
Source: story heard from Dayan Baruch Rappaport