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"Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he circumcised the flesh of his foreskin, and his son Ishmael was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. Thus Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised on that very day; and all his household, his homeborn slaves and those that had been bought from outsiders, were circumcised with him." Genesis.17.25

I've read some Kabbalistic explanations on why Abraham postponed his own circumcision till he was 100, but I didn't find why would he postpone circumcising all his male slaves on the day of purchase and Ishmael on the 8th day, given he kept all Biblical Laws before they were given.

So why did Abraham wait with Ishmael and the slaves?

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  • This may be an indication that Abraham did not keep the whole Torah (Rambam).
    – Turk Hill
    Apr 1 at 12:01
  • The source for that, וַיִּשְׁמֹר מִשְׁמַרְתִּי מִצְו‍ֹתַי חֻקּוֹתַי וְתוֹרֹתָי, is 26:5, 9 chapters later
    – b a
    Apr 1 at 12:05
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    I feel like most of the answers given for Avraham would also work for Yishmael and his slaves. You'd be satisfied with those? Or you want a unique reason for Yishmael and the slaves.
    – robev
    Apr 1 at 12:12
  • There are many non-Kabbalistic answers too, which satisfy both Avraham, Yishmael and slaves.
    – chortkov2
    Apr 1 at 12:28
  • The simple answer is that one cannot do a mitsva properly to someone else if you havent done it yourself.
    – interested
    Apr 1 at 13:26
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Aside from any Kabbalistic answers to why Avraham waited to circumcise himself, there are many famous non-Kabbalistic (nigleh) answers, which appear on this very site.

It would strengthen the question to state the kabbalistic answers, and why they don't apply, as well as to consider each of the non-kabbalistic answers and see whether they do or do not apply.

For instance, the Lubavitcher Rebbe's answer (also in Riva) was that prior to an explicit command, it would have been a violation of shedding a man's blood. This would seem to apply to shedding another human's blood, not just Avraham's own.

Or, the Bet HaLevy says that you cannot have a one-sided contract. Avraham's circumcision of his children and slaves would have been an expression of the same covenant/contract.

Or, if the Riva held that this was a mitzvah that could only be performed once in a lifetime, so he waited until he could perform it in the best manner (metzuveh ve'oseh) then the same could be applied to his one and only son Yishmael.

Or, if as in Bereishit Rabba, he was afraid of chasing away potential converts (even after being commanded), this would logically apply just as if he were to circumcise his children and servants but seemingly hypocritically not circumcise himself.

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  • 1
    I know you're just quoting @Menachem over there, but the Lubavitcher Rebbe's answer is also brought by the Riva.
    – robev
    Apr 1 at 12:45
  • thanks, I'll edit that in Apr 1 at 12:46
  • +1 Thank you. Some explanations are very interesting and some ignore "know all Torah" (KAT). 1. Shedding blood: If Abraham was KAT, he would know that tons of Mitzvot override this, including the Milah. 2. Bris: This one's the most interesting, as it sets Bris aside not as a Mitzvah included in KAT, but as a covenant. (more on this later) 3. Meztuve: this one's a bit problematic: God could not be Metzuve, Abraham could die uncircumcised,Abraham didn't ask God to be Metzuve,or he could circumcise but without Priyeh and make Hatafas Dam after being commanded.
    – Al Berko
    Apr 1 at 14:52
  • 4. Converts: this is clearly incoherent, as without Bris there isn't much (Kosher) conversion. Maybe Baptizing. Also if a person is not ready to CC, he's not ready to be a Jew, and again, no point of conversion. 4.5 *Hypocrisy: if you have to you have to. How is it different from human sacrifice with Isaac?
    – Al Berko
    Apr 1 at 14:59
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    @AlBerko Having an academic background as well, I can understand desire for coherence and consistency. Though I don't really agree that the answers from these Rabbis lack such characteristics. In terms of Shedding blood, I think you might misunderstand the Lubavitcher Rebbe's answer. It is not that Avraham was ignorant of milah overriding shedding blood, but that, in the halachic calculus, prior to a command, milah did not override shedding blood. Only a mitzvah would be docheh (push off) the prohibition, not a reshus. Apr 1 at 16:31

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