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Vision and Revelation

The Torah portion Vayeira, the Hebrew word for revelation, begins by stating that “G-d revealed Himself to him [Avraham] in the Plains of Mamrei….”1 The Zohar notes2 that, prior to Avraham’s circumcision, he could only encounter G-d in a “bamachazeh” — the Aramaic word for vision. After his circumcision, he attained such a lofty state that G-d clearly revealed Himself to him — vayeira.

Clearly, it was the act of circumcision that brought about this radical change in Avraham, so that he became able to see G-d Himself. What was it about circumcision that brought about this transformation?

The difference in the spiritual quality of Avraham before and after his circumcision will be understood by considering the explanation provided by Chassidus3 regarding the difference between Hebrew and other languages, which is likened to the difference between stones and bricks.

The basic difference between these two materials lies in the fact that stones are a heavenly creation while bricks are created by man. The same difference exists in languages, and in the letters and words from whence language is “built.”

The Hebrew letters, the letters of the Torah, are heavenly — likened to stones, for the Torah itself is of Divine origin. However, the letters and words of other languages are compared to bricks, for all other languages are entirely artificial — people got together and agreed that particular words would convey certain meanings.

The difference in Avraham before and after his circumcision will be understood accordingly. Until G-d commanded Avraham to perform the mitzvah of circumcision, all of Avraham’s service was entirely self-motivated, without command — and thus empowerment — from Above. As such, his service was necessarily limited, for a created being can only reach so high.4

Once G-d commanded Avraham to circumcise himself, he was empowered from Above with the ability to unite with the Almighty through the performance of a boundless G-dly commandment, thereby enabling him to reach infinitely higher.

Moreover, performing the mitzvah of circumcision also had the effect of wholly nullifying Avraham and uniting him with G-d, for the commandment of circumcision possesses a quality possessed by no other mitzvah — it is performed upon the person’s body itself, so that the physical body is aware of its nullification and unification with G-d.

Thus, the level of Avraham’s service prior to the mitzvah of circumcision was similar to “bricks;” it was man-made, and thus necessarily limited. Only after he acted in response to the commandment to circumcise himself did his level of service rise to that of “stones” — accomplished through and empowered by the limitless force of the Divine.

This is also why Avraham’s level prior to circumcision was only that of “bamachazeh,” for it was similar to man-made bricks. With circumcision, however, Avraham attained Vayeira, the Hebrew word for revelation, similar to “stones” that derive from heaven.

Before Avraham was circumcised, i.e., before he reached total unity with G-dliness, he was only able to view G-d through the veil of a vision, while afterwards, he was able to view a clear and lucid revelation of Essence.

As “the deeds of our forefathers serve as a lesson to their descendants,”5 there is a lesson here for us all:

Just as Avraham failed to reach the highest levels until he performed the mitzvah of circumcision, so too are we to know that we must never be satisfied with our current level of spiritual service, but must always attempt to reach higher; even when one apprehends G-dliness, it may be merely on the level of a “vision.”

On the other hand, we are assured that when a person serves as best he can with his own power, he will ultimately receive the most lofty degrees of revelation — up to and including the supreme revelation of vayeira.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. X, pp. 50-54

Performing Mitzvos— The Natural Approach

The Torah portion of Vayeira opens with the words: “G-d revealed Himself to Avraham."6 The Gemara7 comments that this took place on the third day following Avraham’s circumcision; on that day, G-d visited him to inquire after his welfare. How does the Gemara deduce that this took place on the third day and not earlier?

The ability of the Jewish people to perform Torah and mitzvos subsequent to Mattan Torah , the Giving of the Torah, derives from the performance of the commandments by the nation’s forbears, for “the deeds of the Patriarchs are a sign unto their progeny.”8 However, the mitzvos performed by the Patriarchs were mainly spiritual in nature, and did not have a great effect on the objects involved. In contrast, the mitzvos performed after Mattan Torah permeate physical objects with holiness.

In order that there be a relationship between the mitzvos fulfilled by the Patriarchs and those performed by their descendants, it was necessary that at least one mitzvah be fulfilled by the Patriarchs in exactly the manner that would later be employed by their descendants. This was the mitzvah of circumcision.

One of the main aspects of the mitzvos subsequent to Mattan Torah is their performance in as natural a manner as possible, without recourse to miracles and the like. This is because mitzvos are meant to refine the world by causing sanctity to enter it, rather than miraculously negating its physicality.

This requirement to perform a mitzvah in the most natural manner possible also applies to the preparations necessary for its performance,9 as well as to its effects.

Understandably, when a mitzvah, the preparation or the results thereof, involve natural difficulties, one should not use supernatural means in order to remove these difficulties. Of course, one should not seek out discomfort and hindrances, but if these are a natural part of a mitzvah or its aftermath, they should not be circumvented by supernatural means.

Since Avraham’s circumcision was entirely similar to the mitzvah performed after Mattan Torah , it follows that no miraculous intervention should have been involved in the Patriarch’s natural healing process.

Accordingly, we must understand how it was that the angel Raphael — the angel of healing10 — came to Avraham in order to heal him.11 Why would G-d send a special messenger to alleviate our Patriarch’s natural discomfort?

The Rambam12 explains that the term “angels” also applies to natural forces. The reason for this is that all things below have a spiritual source above.13 Since the forces of nature descend from angels, they are sometimes called angels — after their source.

It therefore follows that every natural healing derives from the angel Raphael, albeit after a tremendous descent from the spiritual to the physical, until the angel’s action is vested within the physical garments of nature and manifests itself in the specific recovery of a particular individual.

Most people are only capable of seeing the specific healing vested within nature. Avraham, however, was able to perceive the spiritual source of his healing — “he beheld three ‘people,’ ”14 one of them being the angel Raphael. Avraham’s recovery was thus entirely natural; he merely observed the healing at its source.

Therefore, we must say that Raphael came to heal Avraham only on the third day following Avraham’s circumcision, when healing takes place naturally; coming any earlier would have interfered with the natural process. Since Raphael came to Avraham on the same day that G-d appeared to him, it follows that G-d’s appearance was also on the third day.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. V, pp. 77-83

1. Bereishis 18:1.
2. I 88b; see also ibid., 98a.
3. Torah Or, Mishpatim 77c.
4. See Shir HaShirim Rabbah ch. 1. See also Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, p. 757ff.
5. See Likkutei Sichos, ibid., p. 758ff.
6. Bereishis 18:1.
7. Bava Metzia 86b.
8. See Toras Chayim, Lech 83c ff.; Likkutei Sichos, Vol. I, p. 41; Vol. III, p. 758. Cf. Ramban, Lech 12:6 and Bereishis Rabbah 40:6.
9. See Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. IIII, p. 753a.
10. Midrash Konein; Yalkut Reuveni, Bereishis. Cf. Zohar, Vol. I, p. 26b.
11. Bava Metzia 87b; commentary of Rashi , Bereishis 18:2.
12. Moreh Nevuchim 2:10.
13. See Bereishis Rabbah 10:6; Zohar, Vol. I, p. 251a.
14. Bereishis 18:2.



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