Priorities in Mitzvot

November 7th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

ויקח אברם את-שרי אשתו ואת-לוט בן-אחיו, ואת-כל-רכושם אשר רכשו, ואת-הנפש, אשר-עשו בחרן; ויצאו, ללכת ארצה כנען, ויבאו, ארצה כנען
Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all their belongings, as well as the people they had gathered, and they left, heading toward Canaan. And they came to Canaan.

Bereishit 12:5

In order to fulfilll God’s commandment to go to the Land of Israel, Abram took the lead position in the caravan, with everyone following behind him. Contrast this with:

וילך, למסעיו, מנגב, ועד-בית-אל–עד-המקום, אשר-היה שם אהלה בתחלה, בין בית-אל, ובין העי
He continued on his travels, from the Negev toward Bethel, until [he came to] the place where he originally had his tent, between Bethel and Ai.

Bereishit 13:3

In this case, Avram set out for the journey from the Negev to Beit El on a more leisurely pace. He was not “taking” anyone along with him. He was journeying. And not specifically at the head of the caravan either.

This contrast is used by the Netziv (in his commentary on 12:5) to highlight what he calls a big rule that can be learned out to all observance of mitzvot. When Avram was first setting out from Charan to the Land of Israel, any delay might jeopardize the entire journey. He already had a sizeable household (as we can tell from the list of people who followed after him in verse 12:5), but looking after his posessions took second priority to fulfilling God’s commandment. There was a vast spiritual difference between Charan and the Land of Israel. Avram wanted very much to achieve this new spiritual level – thus on this first journey, he took the lead and set out at the head of the column, in front of all of his followers and posessions. True, this haste could cause him some material loss, but in the context of God’s commandment, it was worth it.

Fast forward to Avram’s journey from the Negev to Beit El. Beit El was a place that had a special holiness – after all, it was here that Avram built his first altar in the Land of Israel. However, once he had already fulfilled God’s commandment to go to the Land of Israel, the same level of urgency was not there. Now Avram took more time to journey carefully, taking care to preserve his posessions and followers.

Preserving one’s physical posessions is very important (we will see more of this later on with Yaakov Avinu). In many cases it is a good reason to stray from one’s normal practices (see Devarim 3:19. However, when it can jeopardize one’s ability to fulfill the essence of God’s commandments (in Avram’s case, to go to Canaan), it pales in importance to the ultimate task at hand.

2 Responses to “Priorities in Mitzvot”

  1. 1

    Adina Says

    Hi Yaakov-
    Thanks for the dvar Torah and the chizuk that goes along with it as we prepare for the same mitzva of aliyah that Avraham Avinu was so excited to accomplish. I have a question related to the pasuk you cited (12:5 and the previous one, 12:4) after Hashem gives this command, it says in 12:4 that Avraham went, and Lot went with him. Then in 12:5, it says that Avraham “took” Sara his wife and Lot and all of their belongings. While I did not look at meforshim, it seems 12:4 is a more proactive, voluntary action by Lot to join Avraham but in the following pasuk, there may have been some convincing or a more passive approach by Sara and Lot. Why the difference? Did something change? How might this reflect on Sara?

  2. 2

    Yaakov Says

    In my investigations so far, I have found two different approaches in the commentators:

    The first approach is that 9:4 records a totally different trip than 12:5. This explanation is found in the Rosh on Yevamot Chapter 6, Siman 12. According to this explanation, in passuk 4, Avram went with Lot to the Land of Israel, and it is at this time that he experienced Brit Bein haBetarim. This happened when he was 70 years old (we know this because yetziat mitzrayim occurred 430 years after the Brit Bein haBetarim, or 400 years after the birth of Yitzchak. We also know that Yitzchak was born when Avraham was 100 years old. If you do the math, you will see that Brit Bein haBetarim occurred when Avraham was 70 years old. Yet we read explicitly in 12:5 that Avraham was 75 years old when he left Charan. So in order for Avraham to have left Charan at age 75, there really must have been two separate trips – one detailed in verse 4 (the “pilot trip” with Lot) and one detailed in verse 5.

    The second approach (from the Netziv on 12:4) is an extension of what was written in the post above. Avram, in his enthusiasm to follow Hashem’s command to go to the Land of Israel, could not wait for his entire household to pack up all of their things and sell the house in Charan. He had to leave right away. So that is what he did (with Lot). At some point after he had embarked on his journey, he waited for his wife and the rest of his household to catch up. Once they were all together…verse 5. (The Netziv refers to the Rosh’s explanation as a “Peleh” – however, according to the Netziv how do you explain the 5 year gap between leaving the Brit and leaving Charan in verse 5.

    However, neither of these explanations gives a satisfactory reason why Lot is seemingly demoted in importance from being a central character in 12:4 to just being one more person in the entourage in verse 12:5. Any thoughts?

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