Archive for the 'Lech Lecha' Category

Choose Your Neighbors Wisely

November 11th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

When Avram asked Lot where he wanted to live, Lot chose to live in Sodom, a place full of wicked people who were rebellious to God. Lot may have had good intentions in choosing to live in Sodom. He may have thought that he could do kiruv. He may have thought that he would not be affected by the environment in which he lived.

ויקחו את לוט ואת רכשו בן אחי אברם וילכו, והוא ישב בסדם
And they took Lot, the nephew of Avram, and his posessions and went, and he (Lot) was settled in Sodom

Bereishit 14:12

When the four kings kidnapped Lot and family and took his posessions, it was not despite the fact he lived in Sodom. Rather, Lot’s decision to live in Sodom was the very cause of his kidnapping (Rashi on 14:12). Lot decision to live in a wicked city had a direct affect on the the wellbeing of himself and of his family.

On the other hand, Avram chose to surround himself with those whom he could trust, his ba’alei brit.

ויבא הפליט ויגד לאברם העברי; והוא שכן באלני ממרא האמרי, אחי אשכל ואחי ענר, והם בעלי ברית-אברם
And the Palit came and told to Avram the Ivri (what had befallen Lot), and (Avram) was dwelling in Elonei Mamre the Emorite, the brother of Eshkol and the brother of Ever; and they were Avram’s allies/kinsmen

Bereishit 14:13

Although Avram’s decision to surround himself with friends (who according to some commentators are called the ba’alei brit because they are the ones who gave him suggestions on how best to fulfill God’s commandment of brit milah in the coming parasha) may not have been the cause of Avram’s righteousness – however it is certainly an indicator of Avram’s spiritual level. It shows that even someone on Avram’s level can benefit from living among kind, just people. It is as well a lesson for us, the descendents of Avram.

This has been codified into halacha by the Rambam:

דרך ברייתו של אדם להיות נמשך בדעותיו ובמעשיו אחר ריעיו וחבריו, ונוהג במנהג אנשי מדינתו. לפיכך צריך אדם להתחבר לצדיקים ולישב אצל החכמים תמיד, כדי שילמוד ממעשיהם; ויתרחק מן הרשעים ההולכים בחושך, כדי שלא ילמוד ממעשיהם
Man’s nature is to follow after the thoughts and actions of his neighbors and friends, and act in the way of his countrymen. Therefore one must attach himself to the righteous and constantly sit by the wise, in order to learn from their actions; And (one should) distance oneself from the wicked who walk in darkness, in order not to learn from their actions.

Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Dei’ot, 6:1

May we all merit to learn from both Avraham Avinu and Lot the way in which we should and should not act.

Going Over the Line

November 8th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

ולא נשא אתם הארץ לשבת יחדו כי היה רכושם רב ולא יכלו לשבת יחדו. ויהי ריב בין רעי מקנה אברם ובין רעי מקנה לוט והכנעני והפרזי אז ישב בארץ
The land could not support them living together; their wealth was so great that they could not stay together. Friction developed between the herdsmen of Abram’s flocks and those of Lot. The Canaanites and Perizites were then living in the land.

Bereishit 13:6-7

Why does the Torah mention two times that Avram and Lot could not dwell together? According to the Netziv, it is to emphasize that their inability to be in the same place was not because there was not enough arable land for the two of them. Rather, it was because their was a clash between their temperments and their spiritual levels.

Yet despite this, Avram did not make any proactive steps to separate himself from Lot until friction developed between their respective sheperds. Why did he wait so long?

The Netziv explains this in verse 7. Avram could have gone on for quite some time, maintaining his relationship with Lot to the point where they would not have to separate outright. However, he was prompted to take action by the Chillul Hashem that was going on. Avram was known far and wide for his righteousness and closeness to God. So what impression does it make on everyone around when Avram’s sheperds are getting into fights (even if they didn’t start it)? Especially when all of the neighbors, the Canaanites and Perizites were capable living together without getting into fights? It was to prevent this desceration of God’s name that Avram made sure that he no longer had anything to do with Lot.

(The implications of this for the meaning of Yishuv haAretz are important – perhaps we can say that one cannot fulfill this mitzva if he can’t get along with his fellow Jew. Additionally, it is evident from here that Chillul Hashem may be most accurately measured in how your non-Jewish neighbors view you. Things to think about…)

What a Short Famine

November 8th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

ויהי רעב בארץ וירד אברם מצרימה לגור שם כי כבד הרעב בארץ
And there was a famine in the land, and Avram went down to Mitzrayim to dwell there, for the famine was very harsh in the land

Bereishit 12:10

ויעל אברם ממצרים הוא ואשתו וכל אשר לו ולוט עמו הנגבה
And Avram went up from Mitzrayim, him and his wife and all that was his, and Lot was with him – to the Negev

Bereishit 13:1

Avram had to go down to Mitzrayim because there was a famine in the Land of Canaan. Regardless of whether or not Avram was justified in doing this this was still one heck of a famine – Avram would not have left otherwise. What happens next? He goes down to Mitzrayim, his wife is taken to Pharoah, a makah strikes Pharoah’s household, Pharoah tells Avram to take his wife and his possessions and get lost. Avram goes back up to Canaan and goes on to his next adventure.

So what happened to the famine? From the chronology of the pesukim, it does not seem like Avram was down in Mitrayim for too long of a time – yet, when Avram comes back up to Canaan, there evidently is enough food to go around (otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to come back). Where did all of the food come from? If it was an open miracle, this would probably have been mentioned in the Torah. If the food came back through natural means, how could this have happened so quickly?

A Justifiable Yeridah?

November 7th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

ויהי רעב, בארץ וירד אברם מצרימה לגור שם כי-כבד הרעב בארץ
And there was a famine in the Land; And Avram went down to Mitzrayim to dwell there, for the famine was very harsh in the Land

Bereishit 12:10

Commenting on this verse, Ramban writes: “…also, his leaving from the Land – upon which he had initially been commanded (to enter) – because of famine was a sin, for the Lord in famine will redeeem from death; And it was because of this action that exile to Mitrayim by the hands of Pharoah was decreed on his descendents”. This is not something that we could say today – that Avraham Avinu sinned – but since Ramban said it, is is something that must be taken into consideration.

The Netziv presents an opposite viewpoint. He asks: why is it that the famine is mentioned twice in the same sentence? It must be to show that the famine was so harsh that Avram had absolutely no choice about going down to Mitzrayim – that it came to the point where he had sold all of his posessions, and Avram came to the conclusion that it was the will of God for him to go down to Mitrayim. (Rashi also seems to be of the same opinion).

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.