Vayomer Hashem el Avram lech lecha me’artzecha umimoladtecha umibeis avicha el ha’aretz asher areka v’e’escha l’goy gadol v’avarech’cha v’agadla shmecha vehyeh beracha (12:1-2)
In commanding Avrohom to leave his homeland, Hashem promised him that in his new location he would have children and become a great nation, become wealthy, and become well-known and respected. Why is leaving his homeland considered one of the ten tests of faith to which Hashem submitted Avrohom (Avos 5:3) if he was promised such great reward for doing so?
The following story will help us understand the answer to this question. In Europe, a kosher set of the four species that are taken on Sukkos was often difficult to find. One year, try as he might, the Vilna Gaon was only able to obtain three of the species. Shortly before Sukkos, he was told that a non-Jewish woman in Vilna had the species that he was missing. Ecstatic at the turn of events, he quickly ran to her house and offered to pay any amount of money to purchase it from her. To his surprise, the woman insisted on a unique form of payment: she wanted the Vilna Gaon to give her the reward that he would receive in the next world for the mitzvah of taking the four species that year on Sukkos. He quickly agreed to her condition and took the species that he was missing.
Although the Gaon’s students expected him to be saddened by the turn of events, they were surprised to observe that, to the contrary, his simcha when he performed the mitzvah of taking the four species each morning surpassed anything they had ever witnessed. When they questioned him about his tremendous joy, he explained that each year, as much as he tried his utmost to perform the mitzvah solely for the sake of Hashem, there was some miniscule part of him that was aware of the reward he would receive for performing the mitzvah. As a result of the peculiar form of payment to which he had agreed, for the first time in his life he was able to do a mitzvah purely for the sake of Hashem with no ulterior motive, and it was this unique opportunity which gave him such unparalleled happiness.
In light of this story, we can now understand the answer given by the Panim Yafos to our question. He explains that although Avrohom was promised tremendous blessing by Hashem in his new location, the test was to completely disregard this knowledge and to travel solely to fulfill Hashem’s command without any consideration of the potential gain which awaited him there. Just as the Vilna Gaon found inspiration in the knowledge that his actions were pure and lacking any ulterior motivation, so too the Torah records (12:4) that Avrohom passed his test with flying colors by testifying that he traveled for no reason other than to fulfill Hashem’s command.
Vayeilech l’masa’av minegev v’ad Beis El ad hamakom asher haya sham ahalo ba’techila bein Beis El u’bein Ha’Ai (13:3)
After leaving Egypt to return to Canaan, the Torah relates that Avrohom traveled on the same path which he had taken on his way down. Rashi explains that he stayed in the same inns in which he had lodged on his way to Egypt. This seemingly trivial fact teaches that proper etiquette dictates that a person shouldn’t change the lodgings he is accustomed to.
Rav Pam notes that on his way to Egypt, Avrohom was fleeing from the famine in Canaan and was surely in a difficult financial position. Indeed, Rashi writes that he was unable to pay for his lodging along the way and was forced into debt. It is reasonable to assume that somebody in such a position would stay in the most basic accommodations available.
On the return journey, however, the situation was quite different. In their desire for Sorah, the Egyptians had given Avrohom tremendous gifts of gold, silver, and livestock. Avrohom surely could have afforded to upgrade to more luxurious accommodations. In choosing to return to his original hosts, Avrohom was teaching the proper perspective toward money. Although Hashem had blessed him with newfound wealth, he recognized that it wasn’t given to him to be wasted on earthly pleasures. On his original journey he had been content with basic accommodations, and this would still be the case even with his recent windfall.
His nephew Lot, on the other hand, viewed money differently. The Torah relates (14:12) that the armies of the four kings “captured Lot and his possessions, the nephew of Avrohom.” Why does the Torah interrupt the description of Lot’s identity as Avrohom’s nephew with the seemingly tangential fact that they also seized his possessions?
Rav Mordechai Gifter explains that the Torah is teaching us that Lot was attached to his money to the point that it became an integral part of his definition of self. Just as his familial relationship to Avrohom was a fundamental feature of his being, so too was his bank account. This week’s parsha presents us with a clear distinction between Avrohom’s use of money as an external means to better serve Hashem and Lot’s view of possessions as ends which become part of one’s very essence. Let us learn and internalize this lesson well, and choose to live our lives following in the footsteps of Avrohom Avinu.
Vatomer Sarai el Avram chamasi alecha anochi nasati shifchasi b’cheikecha va’teireh ki harasa va’eikal b’eineha (16:5)
After being married for ten years without bearing any children to Avrohom, Sorah suggested that he should marry her maidservant Hagar and attempt to have children together with her. After Avrohom married Hagar and she successfully conceived, Sorah became upset with Avrohom. Rashi explains that she argued that Avrohom hadn’t prayed on her behalf. When he beseeched Hashem for a child to inherit his spiritual legacy, he prayed only that he should merit offspring but didn’t include her in his petitions.
As the Gemora in Yevamos (64b) teaches that Sorah didn’t have a uterus and was physically incapable of conceiving a child, it is difficult to understand Sorah’s claim. Of what benefit could Avrohom’s prayers have been, and for what reason did she hold him responsible for not asking Hashem for something which was impossible according to the laws of nature?
Rav Nosson Wachtfogel answers that we ask this question only because we don’t understand the tremendous power of true prayer. While it is true that Hashem normally runs the world based on the laws of nature, prayer is a supernatural instrument which allows a person to bypass scientific obstacles.
When the K’sav Sofer was a mere six years old, he became so ill that the doctors despaired of his life. Based on their diagnosis of his ailment, they despondently said that there was nothing they could humanly do to save him. His illustrious father, the Chasam Sofer, requested that everybody present leave the room in which his son was resting.
The Chasam Sofer entered the room, locked the door, and prayed as he had never prayed before. He emerged and confidently announced that he had successfully attained a yovel (50 years) on his son’s behalf. To the amazement of all but his father, the child had a miraculous recovery and went on to lead a prolific and productive life, one which was cut short at the tender age of 56.
Sadly, the Gemora in Berachos (6b) teaches that while prayer has the potential to reach the greatest heights imaginable, people don’t recognize this power and disrespectfully take it for granted. The Gemora in Yevamos (64a) teaches that the infertility of the Avos and Imahos was due to Hashem’s desire for their intense prayers. Sorah understood this lesson and therefore wasn’t the slightest bit fazed by the apparent obstacle presented by her lack of a womb, instead focusing her frustration on the real impediment to her pregnancy – Avrohom’s lack of prayers on her behalf. Many times in life we face seemingly insurmountable challenges. At such times, we may take inspiration and comfort from the recognition that there is no hurdle large enough to stand in the way of our heartfelt prayers.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) The Medrash teaches (Bereishis Rabbah 39:7) that in commanding Avrohom to leave his homeland (12:1), Hashem informed him that He was exempting him from honoring his parents. Can one derive from here that a non-Jew is obligated in the mitzvah to honor his parents, and if not, why did Hashem need to exempt him from a mitzvah in which he wasn’t commanded? (Yad Avrohom and Rav Akiva Eiger Yoreh Deah 241:9, Approbation of Netziv to Ahavas Chesed, Ohr Sameach Hilchos Mamrim 5:11, K’Motzei Shalal Rav, M’rafsin Igri, Ayeles HaShachar 9:25)
2) The name of Avrohom’s father was Terach (11:26). What was the name of Avrohom’s mother, and who else in Tanach had a mother with the same name? (Bava Basra 91a)
3) In Parshas Lech Lecha, Hashem gives Avrohom the mitzvah of circumcision (17:12). The Gemora in Shabbos (132a) rules that it is permissible to circumcise an 8-day-old boy on Shabbos or Yom Tov. If a bris mila is being performed in Israel on the second day of Yom Tov, is an American mohel, who is observing the second day of Yom Tov, permitted to perform the circumcision if there is an Israeli mohel available? (Shaarei Teshuvah Orach Chaim 496:5, Yom Tov Sheini K’Hilchaso 12:1, Piskei Teshuvos 496:30)
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