Parshat Lech Lecha
“And Hashem said to Avram, get yourself out, from your country, and from your birthplace, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.” This is one of the ten tests with which Hakadosh Baruch Hu tested Avraham.
There would appear to be a difficulty here, for Hakadosh Baruch Hu promised him, “And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” (Beraishit xii, 2), and Rashi explains: “Since travel causes three things – it reduces childbearing, reduces one’s money and reduces one’s fame – he therefore needed these three blessings, and he was promised regarding children, money and fame.” If that is the case, then any person, even the most simple, would agree to leave his house and travel to a distant land in order to merit children after so many years of longing for a son, as “Avram was seventy five years old when he left Charan.”
To resolve this difficulty we will examine the conduct of Avraham Aveinu, as opposed to that of Lot.
The first time Terach leaves Charan he takes “Avram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, the wife of Avram his son…” (xi, 31), whereas Nachor, son of Terach does not leave with them for the land of Cana’an. Thus Lot is a part of this traveling, one that shows an intuitive inner connection to the land of Cana’an.
Later Avram is commanded to go to the land, “and Lot went with him.” The Torah continues: “And Avram took Sarai his wife and Lot the son of his brother, and all the possessions they acquired and the souls they obtained in Charan…” (xii, 5). The Torah describes the family relations between Lot and Avraham, and from this we can understand that Lot will be Avraham’s successor (at least in the meantime, as long as he has no child of his own). The expression “And he went with him,” also indicates that he traveled with a true connection to Avraham. After this, Avraham is tested again – “And there was a famine in the land, and Avram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was oppressive in the land” (xii, 10). Rashi explains: “‘A famine in the land’ – in that land alone, to test him, whether he would doubt Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s words, who told him to go to the land of Cana’an and now is causing him to leave it.”
Clearly the descent to Egypt is not a test for Lot, as Hakadosh Baruch Hu did not command him to go to the land of Cana’an, yet it can be assumed that these questions occurred to Lot, as he knows about Hashem’s promise to Avraham, that He would bless him in the land of Cana’an, and that this promise is not being fulfilled. We do not know if Lot continues to stick to Avraham and his ways full-heartedly or if he has his doubts. It is interesting that the Torah does not mention at all that Lot went down with Avraham and Sarah to Egypt, and only after all the incidents that occur to Avraham and Sarah and their being sent away from Egypt does the Torah add: “And Lot, who traveled with Avraham, also had flocks and herds and tents” (xiii, 5). It can perhaps be suggested that the Torah hides Lot’s traveling with Avraham to Egypt to teach us that Lot’s relationship with the latter stood at a crossroads, whether he would continue to travel with him, with all his heart and through an identification with Avraham’s spiritual path, or whether he did not possess the inner strength to continue Avraham’s path and that his walking was alongside him, i.e. as an equal who is going on his own independent path rather than as a subordinate.
Thus the Torah does not describe Lot’s traveling with Avraham to Egypt. Yet it appears that in Egypt the process of separation between Avraham and Lot began, one that would end when they returned to the land of Cana’an, when “and Lot traveled from the east [me’kedem] (Rashi: ‘A Midrash Aggadah [states]: He took himself away from the Ancient One [kadmon] of the world, saying, “I have no interest, neither in Avraham nor in his G-d’) and each man separated from his brother” (xiii, 11).
Up until this point we have not heard of any property belonging independently to Lot, and only now when they return from Egypt do we learn that Lot possesses “flocks and herds and tents,” implying that when Paroh dealt well with Avraham he also dealt well with Lot, and therefore the latter now owns his own property. As well as possessions, he also has “tents.” The tent expresses a person’s independent and unique path, as we learnt in Parshat Noach: “May G-d widen Yefet and may he dwell in the tents of Shem” (ix, 27), meaning that the external beauty will enter in and connect to the tent of Shem, that the lofty and Divine path of Shem, symbolized by the tent, will be connected to Yefet. We learn from this that as soon as Lot comes into money, his wealth changes him and he stops acting as an inferior towards his uncle Avraham. Therefore the Torah writes: “And Avram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all he possessed, and Lot with him to the south.” This contrasts with what was stated above – “And Avram took Sarai his wife and Lot the son of his brother, and all the possessions they acquired…” Back then, Lot was connected to Avraham and his wife, and only afterwards are the rest of their possessions noted, whereas our pasuk first mentions Avraham and his wife and all he possessed and only afterwards does Lot’s name appear, teaching us that now two groups exist, and that Lot is no longer wholly linked to Avraham’s group. Nor does the Torah mention the family relationship between Lot and Avraham, as opposed to the description of their traveling to the land of Cana’an, when the Torah emphasized that he was the son of his brother, teaching us that the family connection is no longer significant. Likewise the Torah writes that Lot ascended with him, as an equal. We learn from this that money blinded Lot’s vision, and he now has a new, independent outlook. The Torah tells us that when Lot and Avraham split up “And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw the whole of the Jordan plain, and it was well watered everywhere, before Hashem destroyed Sedom and Amorah, like the garden of Hashem, like the land of Egypt, on the way to Tzoar” (xiii, 10). Suddenly Lot is seeing new things, yet his entire outlook involves the external matters of wealth and Sedom’s material plenty while ignoring the wickedness of the residents of Sedom, about which the Torah already provides hints at the same time that Lot is examining the place he will travel to, informing us that it was “before Hashem destroyed Sedom and Amorah,” indicating their wickedness. This opening up of the eyes reminds us of the sin of the Tree of Knowledge. On that occasion the snake says to Chava, “and your eyes will be opened” (iii, 5), and afterwards: “And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and that it was desirable to the eyes, and the tree was pleasant to make one wise” (6), and then “the eyes of both of them were opened” (7). It is clear that this external opening of the eyes implies the closing of an inner reflection on life. Avraham, the father of the Jewish nation, acts to correct the sin of Adam Harishon. Lot, who is unable to connect to such a lofty mission, falls backwards into Adam’s first error. The disengagement process begins in Egypt, and therefore the Torah emphasizes that it was like the land of Egypt, to teach us that if there is no true connection to the word of Hashem, foreign influences can cause as great a fall as Lot experienced in Egypt.
This approach can help us answer our opening question. While Hakadosh Baruch Hu did promise Avraham descendants and fame, this itself formed the central aspect of his test – would he fulfill the divine command for itself without any thoughts of benefit or gain. We must fulfill the mitzvot due to our connection to Hashem, and from the love of Hashem in our hearts, and from the knowledge that these are absolutely Divinely commanded actions, and we must not think of the reward that comes with them.
If Avraham will fulfill the Divine command for the sake of truth, despite the promise of a reward, his lofty stature will be made evident, and the process of the correction of Adam Harishon’s sin will commence, through a true life that is centered on the cleaving to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. This process will be completed only through a nation that lives in such a manner, and this is what Hakadosh Baruch Hu promises Avraham: “And I will make you into a great nation.”
An additional test that appears in our Parsha is the war with the four kings. We will attempt to explain the test according to the approach we have chosen. We would have expected that the relationship between Avraham and Lot would have been completely severed after their split up and Lot’s distancing himself from Avraham and his G-d, yet the Torah tells us that “[And] they took Lot and his possessions, the son of Avraham’s brother, and they left, and he was living in Sedom” (xiv, 12). The wording of the pasuk is unusual – we would have expected the Torah to write: “And they took Lot, the son of Avraham’s brother, and his possessions,” but the Torah wanted to teach us that Lot is now connected to his possessions, and is no longer connected to his righteous uncle. The additional comment, that Lot was living in Sedom, is also apparently superfluous, as this is already known to us, but the Torah wanted to inform us that Lot is deeply linked to Sedom rather than Avraham.
Yet since he is the son of Avraham’s brother, Avraham does not shake him off, but rather prepares for a moral and just war in order to save Lot. This is why the Torah emphasizes: “And Avraham heard that his brother had been captured…” (xiv, 14), and again: “And he restored all the property, as well as Lot his brother and his property he restored…” (xiv, 16). The family connection between Avraham and Lot is renewed, after it had been severed by Lot, following the trip to Egypt.
There are those who are “zealous for the word of Hashem,” who distance themselves from and hate others, all for the sake of Heaven. Avraham Aveinu, who was meant to be “a father of many nations,” undergoes a test – whether the separation between him and Lot will affect him and leave him indifferent to the latter’s fate, or whether his love of his fellow man (that comes from his love of Hashem) will lead him to prepare for war. Avraham indeed passes this test, and this is a sign for future generations that Am Yisrael must increase love and light.
There is no doubt that love is first of all felt between brothers (such as Lot and Avraham) and only afterwards as love towards the entire world (such as Avraham’s test to save Sedom). In these difficult days of painful and bitter arguments amongst ourselves we must increase love and brotherhood, and only through this will we merit be’ezrat Hashem, the building of the third Bet Mikdash.
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