Chazal tell us that Avraham Aveinu was tested with Ten Nisyonos (Avos 5:3). Delving into each one of them and understanding the greatness of Avraham and what he instilled in the heart our Nation is of utmost importance. The nature of each test and the lesson that each provides is of much relevance to us. The test of leaving his hometown and father’s home was one that challenged Avraham’s comfort and whether he would trust Hashem. The test of having Sarah kidnapped twice by Avimelech and Pharaoh and the test of famine challenged the deepest fibers of Avraham’s belief in Hashem. What exactly was the nature of the test of Bris Milah, was this merely one of whether or not Avraham would endure physical pain in performing the act on himself?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986) strengthens this question by quoting Chazal who say that Bris Milah was always a dear Mitzva of the Jewish nation and has always been performed with great joy. Avraham was not in any physical danger of attack based on him performing circumcision. Additionally, Chazal tell us that so dear is the Mitzvah of Milah that Avraham Aveinu waits by the door of Gehenom and will save any Jew who is sent there in the merit of Milah. What exactly was the challenge?
Rabbi Feinstein provides a fascinating explanation. Avraham was the first Kiruv professional. He wished to show the world Hashem’s Kindness and Greatness. He did so by engaging in friendly conversation and enjoyable interactions with people. He would feed travelers who passed by and while eating with them he would ask them if they thanked Hashem the One who provided them with their meal. His goal was to work with them and to connect thereby bringing them under the warm wings of the Shechinah. Avraham felt it important to speak a common language with the people and not to appear too aloof or give off an aura of ‘holier than thou’. Avraham recognized that the only way to work with and connect with people that came to his house was to show them his common ground with them and to appeal to their own concept of gratitude and thanks. They very much related to how down-to-earth Avraham and Sarah were and how wise and beautiful their hospitality and classes were.
Avraham feared that if he were to go against the trend of his time and would perform a circumcision on himself and his family, this would stress the difference between him and others. People would see Avraham as separate and this would prevent them from relating to him and from hearing his important message. Hashem taught Avraham that despite his feelings that this action would segregate him, one must always strive to grow spiritually and not worry about the repercussions that the observance will produce. Hashem promised Avraham that if he were to take on this holy act, he would not lose contact with others that did not yet know about Hashem. This was the challenge of Avraham regarding Bris Milah, would he take this next step up in spirituality and perform Milah despite his fears that he would no longer be able to continue his spiritual guidance. Avraham passed this test just as all of the ten tests and he showed how one could grow spiritually and yet at the same time still relate to others who stand at a different level. With love, respect, and an open heart, Avraham and Sarah continued to show the world the beauty and greatness of closeness to Hashem.