Parashat Lekh-Lekha concludes by telling of God’s command to Avraham that he and his descendants undergo berit mila – circumcision, the sign on a person’s body of our nation’s covenant with God. The Torah tells that Avraham complied with God’s command and underwent the procedure of berit mila, indicating that he did so without any ambivalence or hesitation. Moreover, the Torah emphasizes that Avraham performed berit mila “be-etzem ha-yom ha-zeh” – “right on this day” (17:26), seemingly stressing the fact that Avraham fulfilled this command the same day it was issued.
However, the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 47:10) relates that after Avraham performed berit mila, he felt uneasy about the consequences of his circumcision. He feared that whereas before his berit mila wayfarers in need of food and lodging would often come to his home, now, after his berit mila, they would not visit him. It seems that the berit mila resulted in a degree of distance and tension between Avraham and his contemporaries. Whether it was due to the act itself, which appears peculiar to those not accustomed to it, or the unique, distinctive status which the berit mila signifies, Avraham sensed a barrier of sorts erected as a result of the mila, an inability to relate to and associate with others to the same extent as he has beforehand. The Midrash continues that the Almighty responded to Avraham’s concerns by saying, “Before you were circumcised, people would come to you; now, I, in My glory, come and reveal Myself to you!” Indeed, immediately after Avraham’s circumcision, we are told, “The Lord appeared to him in the plains of Mamrei” (18:1).
It appears that the Midrash here seeks to depict the experience of loneliness that often ensues from our relationship with God. Devoting ourselves sincerely and wholeheartedly to the Almighty will, almost invariably, interfere with our social relationships. On a national level, certainly, our religious beliefs and practices have often exposed us to the scorn, derision and hostility of other peoples, who singled us out for persecution. And individually, too, our relationship to God all but necessarily infringes upon our relationships to other people. It makes us stand out and live differently than other people, which results in a degree of distance and tension, and our religious obligations and restrictions deny us numerous social opportunities and options. The Midrash assures us that this feeling of loneliness is solved by our relationship with God, that His company and involvement in our lives more than compensate for the lost companionship caused by our religious commitment. The isolation solitude that we at times experience due to the social opportunities we must forfeit as committed Torah Jews are cured by our closeness to our Creator, by the awareness of His constant presence in our lives and the privilege we have to serve and to turn to Him at any time.