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Parshas Lech Lecha - Vol. 10, Issue 3
Compiled by Oizer Alport
After Hashem commanded Avrohom to leave his homeland, Avrohom took his family and traveled to the land of Canaan, where Hashem appeared to him and promised to give the entire land to his descendants. The Torah records that Avrohom then relocated to a mountain east of Beis-El and pitched his tent there, with Beis-El to the west and Ai to the east.
Rav Yehuda Leib Fein, the Rav of Slonim who was murdered by the Nazis in 1941, points out that the Torah's geographical description seems counter-intuitive. The Torah begins by recording the location of Avrohom's tent as a mountain east of Beis-El, which seems appropriate, as the heretofore anonymous mountain could not be used as a geographical landmark, and it was therefore logical to describe its location relative to the well-known city of Beis-El. However, the verse proceeds to record that Avrohom pitched his tent with Beis-El to the west and Ai to the east, which seems difficult to understand. How is it possible to describe the locations of established cities in relation to a mountain whose precise whereabouts are unknown?
Rav Fein explains based on a story that occurred when he was traveling on a train. He overheard one Jew asking another, "Where is the city of Lida?" The second Jew responded, "It's near Radin." As Rav Fein listened to their conversation, he was astonished. Lida was one of the largest and most populous cities in the region, whereas Radin was a tiny little town that could easily be overlooked on a map. How was it possible to describe the well-known Lida based on its proximity to the forgettable village of Radin, which would be comparable to describing Manhattan as being located across the river from Hoboken?
Rav Fein explains that although Radin was physically small and undeveloped, it was well-known for a different reason: It was the home of the Chofetz Chaim, the most renowned Rabbi in his generation. As a result, the otherwise unremarkable town of Radin had become transformed into a major landmark, to the point that it eclipsed the significance of its much larger neighbor Lida, and it was now appropriate to express the location of Lida based on its proximity to the much-smaller Radin of the Chofetz Chaim.
Similarly, Rav Fein continues and explains that when Avrohom initially came to set up his tent on a mountain, the mountain was undistinguished and could not be used to identify Avrohom's location, which was therefore described as being to the east of Beis-El. However, the moment that the great and righteous Avrohom established his home on the mountain, it was immediately transformed into a central landmark, far more noteworthy than the city of Beis-El, and the Torah conveys this by telling us that as soon as Avrohom pitched his tent on the mountain, it outshone the more established cities of Beis-El and Ai around it, and they were now described based on their proximity to Avrohom's mountain.
Rav Fein shared this thought at a ceremony that was held to celebrate the opening of Rav Aharon Kotler's yeshiva in the city of Kletzk. He added that until that time, the small town of Kletzk was relatively unknown, but now that the brilliant Rav Aharon Kotler was establishing a yeshiva there with such well-respected and learned students, it would experience a similar elevation, and the time would soon come when locals would describe much larger cities in its environs based on their proximity to Rav Aharon's Kletzk. Although the yeshiva in Kletzk is sadly no longer in existence, Rav Aharon survived the war and went on to establish the largest yeshiva in the world outside of Israel in the town of Lakewood, New Jersey, and one can now proudly tell visitors to the region that Manhattan is approximately 60 miles north of Lakewood.
Due to a famine in the land of Canaan, Avrohom and Sorah decided to travel to Egypt. As they approached the border between the two countries, Avrohom became aware of Sorah's beauty and began to worry that the Egyptians would want to marry her and would kill him in order to do so, so he asked her to please identify herself as his sister instead of as his wife. While it was understandable for Avrohom to share his plan with Sorah in advance, it is difficult to understand why he had to ask her to "please" go along with it. If her husband's life was potentially at risk, wasn't it clear that she would cooperate with his suggestion? Why did Avrohom have to ask her to do him a favor and save him from imminent danger?
Rav Itzele Volozhiner was the head of the renowned yeshiva in Volozhin. At one point, the yeshiva became so overcrowded and stretched for resources that he had no choice but to enact strict quotas on how many students could enroll from each city. As a result, it sometimes happened that boys who wished to attend knew that they would be unable to do so because all of the positions allotted to their hometowns were presently filled. In order to gain access to the celebrated yeshiva, these students would first travel to a larger town with a correspondingly larger quota of students permitted to enroll. After spending a period of time in the big city, they would then travel to Volozhin and present themselves as residents of the larger town.
After Rav Itzele became aware of this practice, he suggested that it helped him understand Avrohom's request of Sorah. He compared it to a case of two students from a small village who traveled to Vilna in order to be able to honestly say that they were coming from Vilna. On their way from Vilna to Volozhin, whenever they encountered somebody, one of the students would introduce himself as a Vilna resident, while his friend saw no reason to begin doing so at that point, and instead gave the name of their small village as his hometown. Only when they finally arrived in Volozhin did both of them claim to be from Vilna, which enabled them to be accepted. However, on the market day in Volozhin, when merchants from surrounding areas came to peddle their wares, one of the sellers recognized the two boys and called out to greet them, referring to one of them as the student from Vilna and to the other as the student from his small village. As a result of the fact that the latter was not careful to don his guise as a Vilna resident in advance, his true identity became revealed.
Similarly, Rav Itzele explains that Avrohom knew that Sorah would understand his concern that he could be killed if the Egyptians knew their true relationship as husband and wife, and she would therefore go along with his plan to tell them that she was his sister. However, Avrohom was worried that if they presented themselves as a married couple on their travels to Egypt and only adopted their new purported relationship when they arrived, there was a possibility that somebody who encountered them earlier and recognized them as husband and wife would see them in Egypt and inadvertently reveal their secret. Therefore, the Torah emphasizes that as they approached Egypt, Avrohom turned to Sorah and asked her to begin identifying herself as his sister, even while they were still traveling, in order to ensure that his plan would succeed. Because his life was not yet in jeopardy and Avrohom was only suggesting this as an additional precaution, he therefore needed to ask Sorah to "please" accommodate his request.
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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) What was the name of Avrohom's mother, and who else in Tanach had a mother with the same name? (Bava Basra 91a)
3) Rashi writes (12:5) that when setting out for the land of Canaan, Avrohom and Sorah took the people they had converted during their time in Charan. Why don't we find any mention of them continuing to make converts after they left Charan? (Bereishis Rabbah 39:16, Mishmeres Ariel)
4) 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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