A Requirement of Leadership – VaYera 5780

D'var Torah | Genesis

The Tosafists try their best to understand RaShI. The latter explained why Abraham was found at the Terebinths of Mamre at the time of God’s visit (Genesis 18:1) and not in his usual dwelling place of Hebron. Citing a midrash, RaShI says that Abraham sought counsel of Mamre on the matter of circumcision. The Tosafists assume that both RaShI and the midrash to which RaShI refers are implying that Abraham was unsure about performing circumcision so he visited a leading figure in his day to seek his advice, an assumption they reject. How could it be, they ask incredulously, that a man as great as Abraham, a man who had persevered through so many challenges with the help of God, would have any second thoughts about circumcision.


Instead, the Tosafists conclude that Abraham did indeed go to seek out Mamre for his advice. And the advice he sought was indeed about circumcision. But Abraham’s question was not whether or not to be circumcised but whether to perform the circumcision ceremony privately or in public. Mamre advised Abraham that even though the rite of circumcision involves an area that is generally kept private, Abraham should perform it in public so that others in his household would follow his example. Mamre’s advice was helpful. The text reports that Abraham circumcised himself and the members of his household “that very day” (Genesis 17:23) which the Tosafists take to mean “in broad daylight,” that is, in public. And all the other members of his household were circumcised thereafter (ibid.).


Abraham led by example. The members of his household submitted to circumcision because Abraham did so first. The signal characteristic of leadership is the willingness to show the way.


In combat, the office corps of Israel’s Defense Forces suffers an inordinate number of casualties. Israeli officers are trained to go first. Their motto is “aharai:” Hebrew for “After me.” But while the consequences are sometimes dire, the effect is undeniable. Soldiers will follow their officers into any perilous situation because the soldiers know that their officers will not command from the rear but lead by example. Those who aspire to lead would do well to follow after Abraham.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Rabbi Allen on Twitter