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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Go for yourself from you land. (12:1)

Avraham Avinu rose to the occasion. Hashem tested him when He told him to leave and go to another home. It was a significant test, but Avraham passed it. Certainly, to pick oneself up, to leave one's roots, takes incredible conviction. Avraham heard the call, however, and he listened. Interestingly, Lot, Avraham's nephew, also left with Avraham, even though he personally did not hear the call. In effect, Lot withstood a much greater trial than Avroham did. If this is the case, what happened to Lot? He ended up in Sodom, the city that established the standard for evil. In other words, Lot went to the extreme opposite of Avraham. What happened to cause such a transformation?

Horav Yehudah Leib Chasman, zl, notes that this phenomenon is not uncommon. Indeed, we see well-meaning individuals who seek the truth and strive to change their ways, to no avail. What is it? Why do some succeed, while others just simply cannot effect any change in their habits? The difference, explains Horav Chasman, lies in the "clean-up job" one is prepared to undertake prior to attempting to reach a higher moral/spiritual plane. One who seeks to acquire the attributes and virtues, the fear of G-d, and the character refinement that comprise the characteristics of a Torah Jew must first purge himself of his "old" habits, his tendency to evil and his base moral behavior. Only then can he acquire the "good" that a life of Torah has to offer.

One cannot mix the two together. Studying Torah and performing mitzvos just do not coincide with contemporary moral values. What is normal for today's society is generally not in-sync with the Torah's viewpoint. Consequently, Hashem told Avraham, "Lech lecha m'e artzecha," "Go for yourself from your land." Although one first leaves his home, then his city and only as a last resort does he leave his land, Hashem suggested a departure from the norm. He was addressing the habits and tendencies that had become ingrained in Avraham as a result of his environment. It was much easier for Avraham to distance himself from the traits which were not intrinsic to him. Thus, the effect of "his land" would be much easier to expunge. Hashem wanted him to work his way up. First, he was to rid himself of the easy habits, those that had not really taken hold of him. Afterwards, he was to focus on the effect of the "city." Last, he was to free himself of the effect most integral to him, the immediate environment of his home. Only then, could he strive to achieve spiritual perfection in "the land that I will show you."

This is the difference between Avraham and Lot: Avraham left everything when he turned towards Hashem. Lot, on the other hand, took along all of his baggage.

Go for yourself from your land. (12:1)

Horav Nachum, zl, m' Chernobul spent a good part of his life involved in the special mitzvah of Pidyon Shevuiim, redeeming those who have been taken captive by gentiles. He went from door to door, constantly seeking support from the wealthy Jewish householders so that he could continue his holy work. Once, when the Rebbe was in Zitomir, the gentiles in the community libeled him, causing his arrest by the police and consequent incarceration. While he was languishing in prison a tzaddik visited him. During their conversation, he shared with him a pshat, practical explanation, of the above pasuk.

Avraham Avinu exemplified devotion to the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim, welcoming the wayfarer. He would seek out every opportunity to assist and reach out to the traveler or anyone who did not have a permanent place in which to live. He always wanted to do more and more. Hashem told him, "Go out on the road. Start traveling from place to place. Become a wayfarer yourself. You will then know and become acutely sensitive to everything the traveler or the homeless person needs."

The tzaddik looked at Rav Nachum and said, "You too, Rebbe, are a great redeemer of captives. Hashem has 'granted' you the opportunity to learn first-hand what it means to be a prisoner among the gentiles, so that you will have even greater sensitivity to their needs." The lesson we derive from this narrative is powerful. What is no less significant, and should be emphasized, is how these people viewed every incident that occurred in their lives. In their minds everything was for a purpose and provided a lesson.

Go for yourself from your land… to the land that I will show you. (12:1)

This is considered one of the ten nisyonos, trials, which Avraham Avinu underwent as a demonstration of his unequivocal faith in Hashem. Apparently, when Hashem told Avraham to go "to the land that I will show you," he did not give him a road-map spelling out the exact coordinates of this land. Otherwise, the test would not have been that compelling. When there was a famine in the land, Avraham decided to go to Egypt. He was not told to do so by Hashem, as his son Yitzchak would later be told to go to Egypt. He did it on his own. Why? From where did Avraham get the "permission" to leave for Egypt?

Horav Levi Yitzchak, zl, m'Berditchev explains that Hashem did not appear to Avraham to direct him concerning where he should go. Avraham acted on his own for a very good reason. A person who believes with conviction that nothing in this world "just happens," but, rather, everything is directed by Hashem, will view every occurrence, whether great or small, as being representative of the "etzba Elokim," finger of G-d. The Jew should not have the word "coincidence" in his lexicon. Nothing is coincidence - everything emanates from Hashem! It is just that for the average person it is difficult to plumb the depths and determine what it is that Hashem is asking of us, or what message He is conveying. Avraham Avinu's acute perception of Hashem enabled him to understand where it was that Hashem wanted him to go - and he went.

When there was a famine in the land, Avraham saw the "handwriting on the wall"; he was being sent another message. He did not say, "Since Hashem promised me the land, He does not want me to leave." No - he understood the underlying motif of the famine. Hashem wanted him to leave. This is the sign of a great person, setting the standard to which we should all aspire. We must see Hashem's guiding Hand in every incident that occurs and note how it affects us both individually and collectively, so that we can respond accordingly. Regrettably, some of us just do not have a clue. We are privy to events that clearly communicate a compelling message. Do we respond? Or do we continue with business as usual? Surely, every one of us can remember an episode in our lives when we saw the Yad Hashem, Hand of the Almighty, guiding us. Did we follow Him?

He proceeded on his journeys from the south to Beth-El to the place where his tent had been first. (13:3)

Rashi says that these "journeys" were part of an original itinerary, implying that Avraham Avinu stayed in the same places that he had stayed on his way to Egypt. Chazal derive from this seemingly insignificant detail that one should not change his usual lodgings unless he has had a bad experience there. Otherwise, he discredits himself, implying that he is either hard to please or of an unsavory character. He also gives the impression that his original lodgings were unsatisfactory, thereby harming the host's reputation. While we can understand this approach, should the individual settle for substandard accommodations?

Horav Avraham Pam, zl, explains that Avraham was teaching us more than a lesson in etiquette; rather, he was imparting an understanding of Jewish values. Avraham left as a poor man and returned as a wealthy man laden with gold and silver. He did not act like those noveau riche who, as a result of their small-minded perception of life and their huge ego due to a low self-esteem, flaunt their wealth and call attention to themselves. No - Avraham did not waste his money; he did not believe in ostentatious display of wealth. He took the newfound wealth and gave it to charity. He went back to the same motel and continued with a lifestyle very similar to the one he had enjoyed before Hashem conferred His blessing upon him. Surely, he did not waste his G-d-given gift on foolishness. To paraphrase Rav Pam, "Avraham Avinu recognized that any money in his possession that was superfluous to his needs was a deposit from Hashem to be guarded and held in safekeeping until the Almighty directed him where to spend it. How could he take for his own personal use that which belonged to the Almighty?"

And there was quarreling between the herdsmen of Avram's livestock and the herdsmen of Lot's livestock… so Avram said to Lot, "Please let there be no strife between me and you…for we are kinsmen. (13:8,9)

It is interesting to note that the pasuk begins with the word riv, quarreling, in lashon zachar, male gender, and ends with the word, merivah, which is lashon nekeivah, female gender. Is there a reason for this change? The Shelah HaKadosh, explains Avraham's dialogue with Lot in the following manner: Avraham said to Lot, "Let us stop this quarrel, this riv right now, before it blows into a full-scale merivah," [in the female gender]." The female symbolizes birth and growth. Let us quell this isolated disagreement before it gives birth and generates many disputes and quarrels. As long as it is in the male gender, then it cannot reproduce and it is controllable. Once it becomes a merivah, there will be no end to it.

Avraham emphasized the fact that he and Lot were "anashim achim," brothers, kinsmen. A fight between brothers has far greater ramification than discord among two unrelated people. It is so much more difficult to resolve the differences.

An anecdote supplements this thought. Once gold asked steel, "Why do you make so much noise when you are hit? I am also struck by a hammer and hardly any sound/noise emanates from me". Steel answered, somewhat dispirited, "You are struck by another metal, thus your pain is not so great. I am struck by steel, my brother, causing deeper pain and humiliation." The hurt caused by a brother penetrates so much deeper and endures so much longer. Are we not all brothers?

And Lot journeyed from the east; thus they parted, one from his brother. (13:11)

In this parsha, we learn about two men who were challenged with the trial of osher - wealth. They each chose a different road. Lot, Avraham's nephew, traveled with him. During this period, he was his trusted disciple. When they came to the crossroads, Avraham said to Lot, "Separate from me." The Torah writes that Lot took one look at the lush, fertile land of the Jordan, and he chose to move there. It was his chemdas hamamon, desire for riches, his love of money, that drove him to leave his rebbe, the holy Avraham. He traded his opportunity for spiritual advancement for his material yearnings. He abandoned Avraham for the wicked people of Sodom. Chazal teach us that Lot did not merely separate himself from Avraham. He severed his relationship with Hashem. They interpret the word, "mikedem," from the east, as a reference to the "Kadmono Shel Olam," "The ancient One of the World," suggesting, "I want neither Avraham, nor his G-d." The Alter, zl, m'Kelm, questions Chazal. From where do they derive this statement from Lot? What makes them believe that this is the underlying meaning of his separation from Avraham?

He explains that Lot had been prepared to relinquish his relationship with an adam kadosh, holy person, such as Avraham, and move to a country such as Sodom, the standard-bearer of evil, just because of his lust for wealth. This could only have occurred after he had already forsaken Hashem. One whose heart beats with a warmth, an emotion, a connection to the Almighty cannot "throw it all away" for a few extra dollars. It can only be that he had already divorced himself from the Almighty. This is a powerful and penetrating statement, one that perhaps gives us a greater insight into contemporary society and its lack of moral restraint. Contemporary society has long ago traded religion for materialism, obliterating the inherent moral restraints.

Fear not Avram, I am a shield for you, your reward is very great. (15:1)

Avraham Avinu triumphed in his war with the four kings. This was the first "world war." Upon returning victorious from the battlefield, Malki Tzedek, king of Shalem, greeted him with bread and wine. The king of Sodom also gave tribute to him. After this war, after the unparalleled victory, Hashem appeared to Avraham and told him, "Do not be afraid, I will be a shield for you." This is enigmatic. Should not Hashem have appeared to Avraham before the war, to encourage him, to give him hope for victory? Avraham was not entering the battle with a large, strong army. He had just 318 soldiers with him. There are even those that contend that Avraham only had his faithful servant, Eliezer, whose Hebrew name is the numerical equivalent of 318. It was as he was going to battle against such formidable odds that Avraham needed the encouragement.

Horav Aryeh Levine, zl, explains that specifically after Avraham had emerged victorious that he needed Hashem's reassurance. After they had suffered defeat, the enemy surely would not accept their humiliation. They had to regroup and attack with greater viciousness to save face, to prove to the world that they were truly superior to Avraham. Indeed, after they were defeated, they became like a wounded animal whose pain is intense and whose emotional state demands one thing - revenge.

We may suggest that the same is true in our daily fight with our archenemy - the yetzer hora, evil inclination. When we succeed in vanquishing him, we might think that the war is now over. Now, especially, we must be on the lookout for his reprisal. It would be a serious mistake to ignore the yetzer hora's hold upon us. It is when we revel in our victory that we lose, falling prey to him.

Questions and Answers

1.What did Hashem expect of Avraham when He said to him, "And you shall be a blessing"?

2.What was unique about the land of Canaan?

3. Why did Avraham pitch his tent between two large cities?

4.What concern entered Avraham's mind after he miraculously succeeded in killing the wicked kings?

5. What did Avraham mean when he asked "Bama eida ki irashena?" "Whereby shall I know that I will inherit it?"

6. Why does the Torah emphasize Avraham's age (86) when Yimshmael was born?


1. He was to reach out to people and teach them to recognize the Creator and bless Him. This was his goal in life when he was "Koreh b'Shem Hashem," "called out" in the Name of Hashem (Daas Zekeinim).

2. It was a land that was widely known as conducive to deep understanding and service of G-d (Sforno).

3. This was so that many people would come and listen to him when he called out in the Name of Hashem (Sforono).

4. He feared that he had already received his reward for his piety, and he could look forward to nothing more (Rashi).

5. While he believed that he merited and would receive the land, he was concerned that because of his children's sins, they would ultimately lose it (Sforno).

6. This is written as a credit to Yishmael for his willingness to accept the Bris Milah at the age of thirteen (Rashi).

In loving memory of our dear
Mother and Grandmother
Her love of life and her vibrant personality infused and enriched our lives. May the memory of her life be a blessing.
Leon Sutton and Family


Peninim on the Torah is in its 11th year of publication. The first seven years have been published in book form.

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