Hashem appeared to Avraham Avinu in the plains of Mamre, for, as Rashi explains, it was Mamre who gave Avraham Avinu advice about his bris milah.
What was the advice that he offered that gained him such great merit? It is inconceivable that Avraham Avinu, the great pillar of emunah, would have had any doubts about whether to fulfill a commandment of Hashem.
The meforshim give numerous answers. Some say that there is a halachic dispute concerning the wording of the brachah recited during a bris, and Avraham Avinu sought the opinion of Mamre on that question. Another explanation is that Mamre provided medical advice on how to facilitate the healing process.
The most common answer is that it was a question of location. Should he celebrate the bris in public or in private?
This is perplexing. Avraham Avinu had no fear of public opinion when he went against the views of nearly all of civilization in recognizing Hashem as the only G-d. He didn’t worry about ridicule when he smashed his father’s idols.
So what was his doubt here?
It was a fear of arrogance, says the Rebbe Reb Bunim of Peschischa. Making the bris in public had great benefits as it would bring about a kiddush Hashem. But when good deeds are performed in public, there is always a risk of gaavah.
This was the dilemma which Avraham Avinu posed to Mamre.
Mamre counseled him to make the bris in public, and Avraham Avinu followed his advice, remaining all the while his exceedingly humble self.
This is how the Ohev Yisrael homiletically explains the passuk “Hashem appeared to him in the plains of Mamre.” Avraham Avinu felt unworthy to have Hashem appear to him, and attributed it to the merit of Mamre, whom Avraham considered a truly righteous and worthy man. In contrast, Avraham viewed himself as “sitting at the entrance of the tent”; he felt that he was still on the “outside” and had yet to begin properly serving Hashem.
In Gur Aryeh, the Maharal gives two related explanations.
One is that if Avraham Avinu had undertaken bris milah without seeking counsel, it could later have been claimed that had he received proper counsel, he would have been advised not to undergo this dangerous procedure and he would have followed that advice. Therefore, he chose to seek advice, making certain that he heard the words of the dissuaders, and then going ahead with the procedure despite their advice.
The Maharal also offers another explanation — one that contains some pertinent lessons.
He noted that Aner, Eshkol and Mamre were “baalei bris Avraham” — there was a pact of friendship among them. People who have such a pact do not undertake ventures without first seeking counsel from one another. They are not obligated to follow the proffered advice, but they are not permitted to do something without notifying the others and discussing it first.
Avraham Avinu had no intention of following any advice that would be contrary to the word of Hashem. But he felt obligated at least to let the other pact members know about his plans in advance.
* * *
The relentless pressure that characterizes our day-to-day lives is the root of many of the challenges and problems that plague our society. Yet few of us feel confident enough to swim against the tide, even when we have no doubt that the views or actions of others are wrong.
Ironically, at the same time that they worry constantly about what others think of them, so many people live terribly lonely lives. They may be members of large families and have countless acquaintances whom they refer to as friends. But their thoughts, doubts and emotions are sealed deep within their hearts, for their relationships are superficial in nature.
The Maharal reminds us of the importance of having a true friend with whom we can feel comfortable discussing every aspect of life, knowing that the conversation will remain private. He also makes us aware that when one declines to follow the advice of a friend, it should never in any way cast doubt on the strength of the friendship.
Finally and most importantly, we learn that when we know a certain path is spiritually correct, we must never allow the views of others to dissuade us from it.