Back to this week's parsha Peninim on the Torah Previous issues
Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Lech Lecha

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

Hashem is telling Avraham to leave for his own benefit. As long as he remained in Charan, he would not merit the privilege of begetting children or the opportunity of successfully reaching out to a pagan society. Interestingly, Chazal consider Avraham Avinu's move to be one of the asarah nisyonos, ten trials, to which he was subjected. This seems questionable. Imagine that someone who is r"l childless is told that, by traveling out of the country, he will meet a famous doctor who has successfully treated people who previously had not been blessed with children. Would anyone consider this a trial and resist departing? Moreover, if he is told that his and the doctor's expenses will be paid for, he would immediately run to see that doctor. In this case, Hashem is telling Avraham to go from here to Eretz Yisrael where he will be blessed with children, honor and prosperity. Yet, Chazal consider it to be a trial! Why is this?

Horav Ovadiah Yosef, Shlita, explains that Avraham was concerned about the inroads he had made in this community and the spiritual loss that would ensue if he were to prematurely leave. It was well-known that he was miraculously saved from the fiery furnace which Nimrod, the evil king, had prepared for him. Indeed, Chazal tell us that Hashem personally saved Avraham. No doubt, such an example of Kiddush Hashem would leave an indelible impression on even the most ardent pagan. Certainly, this miracle provided Avraham Avinu with access to everyone. He succeeded in bringing many people into the fold. Suddenly, the "star" of the show was leaving, going to a new place where nobody had heard of him or of the miracle that he had experienced. What should he do?

Hashem explained to Avraham that one who believes in Him as a result of logical deduction will maintain his conviction - in contrast to the individual who is attracted by miracles. He was to go to Eretz Yisrael in order to teach the people about monotheism. No miracles, no wonders. Just teaching, learning and caring, and he would succeed. We have only to look at contemporary society to see how true this still is today. Those who have "returned" as a result of artificial inspiration or exposure to miracles do not necessarily remain for the duration of the "trip." Those whose belief is founded in sagacious rationalization of the facts, coupled with emunah, true belief, maintain their conviction, regardless of the challenges they might encounter.

And Hashem said to Avram, "Go for yourself." (12:1)

The words "Lech Lecha," "Go for yourself" have a profound meaning according to the Sifrei Kaballah. Hashem instructed Avraham to go to the source of his neshamah, soul, to introspect, to look deeper into himself. Horav Shlomo Yosef Zevin, zl, explains that man is not expected to achieve a level higher than his potential. He is expected to maximize his competencies to attain a level of success and accomplishment commensurate with his G-d-given faculties. He cites the tzaddik, Rav Zushia of Annipole, who said, "When I arrive at the Olam Ha'Emes, the World of Truth, if they ask me, 'Zushia, why did you not attain the spiritual level of the Baal Shem Tov,' I will not be frightened, for I am not in the same "league" as the Baal Shem. And if they say to me, 'Zushia, why were you not like the Mezritcher Maggid?' I will also not be concerned. For, how could anyone expect someone like me to become as great as the Mezritcher? What frightens me is when they will ask me, 'Zushia, why weren't you Zushia?' Why did you not become what you could have been? Why did you not maximize your potential and become the gadol that you were destined to be?' "

This story should carry a deep meaning for all of us. Regrettably, many of us live two lives: ours and someone else's. We push ourselves to be someone we are not, all the while neglecting to strive to be who we are destined to be. Unfortunately, parents sometimes turn their children into neurotics in an attempt to transform them into someone other than themselves. If they would only focus upon their child's actual potential, instead of always looking "next door," they and their children would be much happier people. As the Rebbe Reb Zushia said, "We will be called to task for not maximizing our talents, not those of someone else." Unfortunately, those for whom this message is meant are too concerned with being someone else, with the superficial image which they cast.

They left to go to the land of Canaan, and they came to the land of Canaan. (12:5)

The primary rule in spiritual growth is never to lose focus of one's goals. Horav Leib Chasman, zl, emphasizes the importance of setting an objective and not losing sight of it - even momentarily. A short lapse can cause one to fall short of his goal or, even worse, fall behind his starting point. Often, we accept upon ourselves the obligation to perform good deeds, we undertake lofty endeavors, all very worthwhile and within our grasp - if we abide by our agenda. We begin our quest, steadily moving forward, heading towards our goal. After awhile, however, something briefly distracts us. Before we realize it, we are no longer on track. Our enthusiasm has waned, our desire has dissipated. How did this happen? People think that as long as they are on track, everything will be fine. This is not so. One must maintain the same drive and enthusiasm he displayed when he started. The slightest deviation from that early elation can bring us down, where we fall into the grips of the yetzer hara, evil inclination. In our twice-daily recitation of the Shema, we say, "And these matters that I command you today shall be on your heart." Chazal teach us that we should view the Torah as if it is being given to us today - fresh and exciting, not stale and archaic. The Torah should constantly stimulate us. It should challenge us intellectually and emotionally. By taking this perspective, we are ensured that we will not tire of it.

This is the underlying meaning of our pasuk, "They left to go to the land of Canaan, and they came to the land of Canaan." With every step that Avraham took on his way, he revitalized Hashem's imperative. He never waned from following the command to go to Canaan. Every movement represented a mitzvah, performed with excitement and joy. Even when he was at the last step prior to entering the land, Avraham maintained his original focus. His initial enthusiasm continued as if he had just now been commanded.

And there was quarreling between the herdsmen of Avram's livestock and the herdsmen of Lot's livestock; and the Canaani and the Peruzi were dwelling in the land. (13:7)

This seemingly innocuous pasuk is the source of much homiletic exposition by the commentators. Why does the Torah begin by saying that there was a "riv," "quarrel", between Avraham and Lot's herdsmen? In this instance, the Torah uses the word "riv," which is the masculine gender of the word. On the other hand, when Avraham speaks with Lot, he says, "Let there not be a merivah between us," using the female gender. The Shlah HaKadosh explains that Avraham sought to emphasize to Lot the gravity of machlokes, controversy, and its tragic consequences. He said a simple "riv," which is the masculine gender, can quickly swell in proportion and transform into a merivah, in the feminine gender, implying the ability to give birth to more and more strife. Avraham told Lot to stop the quarrel now, while it could still be contained, before it veered out of control. How true this is! How often does a simple argument within a community blow up into an all-out machlokes, with everybody taking sides? It takes a wise man to know when to quell an argument. It takes an even wiser man not to argue at all.

The Avnei Azel renders this pasuk homelitically, applying it to the strife that revolves around Torah chinuch, education. In the Talmud Shabbos 119A, Chazal state that Yerusholayim was destroyed because that prevented the young children from studying Torah. This means that Torah education, the yeshivah day-school movement, was not one of their priorities. When our children's education takes second place to everything else, the future of Klal Yisrael appears very bleak. For what do we need Yerusholayim, if there will be no Jews to inhabit it? This idea is underscored in Sefer Eichah 1:5,6, "Her young have gone into captivity before the enemy. Gone from Tzion is all her splendor." When the young have been taken captive, Tzion no longer manifests her splendor. The children are the hope, the future, the beauty of a community. If we destroy our spiritual heritage, we will be left with nothing but destruction.

The shepherds in this pasuk symbolize those who shepherd children. This alludes to controversy regarding the best manner in which to teach Jewish children. There is one Torah -- and one approach to teaching it - b'ruach Yisrael sabah," in accordance with the traditional approach. Torah cannot be watered down or subjected to secular supplementation. The controversy often arises as to whether to follow the shepherds of Avraham, the path of Torah chinuch as forged by Avraham , or whether to follow the materialistic secular approach of Lavan. When this occurs, the Canaani and Perizi take control of the land; the children assimilate, because they have nothing with which to fortify themselves against the onslaught of the street/society.

Rashi questions the relationship between the second half of the pasuk, which tells of the Canaani and Perizi dwelling in the land, to the quarrel between the herdsmen. Horav Zeev Weinberger, Shlita, quotes from "Seforim" that claims that the notion of these two pagan nations dwelling "peacefully" in the land is a critique against Avraham. The pagans "seem" to be able to get along, while Avraham's shepherds are embroiled in controversy! What happens among Jews is relative to the rest of the world. If everyone is at peace while we unfortunately are at strife, our discord becomes magnified.

Horav Weinberger takes a practical approach to understand the juxtaposition. There are those among us whose liberal perspective takes a dim view of those who criticize other Jews as long as we are in exile. They feel we should not wash our "dirty laundry" in public. We should ignore the spiritual shortcomings of some of our brethren in light of "public opinion." This is categorically wrong. Avraham was surrounded by pagans from all sides. Yet, when Lot's shepherds were acting inappropriately, he had no qualms about rebuking them. We must do what is right, regardless of who is watching. When other Jews are profaning the Torah, our primary concern should be to protest vigorously, with dignity - but never to ignore the disgrace because we are concerned about what the world community will say? We have to act with a demeanor becoming the Jewish People, but we must act.

We see this idea expressed in Moshe Rabbeinu's actions towards Dasan and Aviram, his two nemesis', who were fighting with one another. The Torah records two times that Moshe "went outside." On the first day, he encountered an Egyptian striking a Jew. On the second day, he came upon Dasan and Aviram clashing. What is the connection between these two encounters? Horav Weinberger suggests that although the Jews were subject to Egyptian captivity and their every activity was scrutinized, Moshe had no compunction about admonishing two Jews who were not acting "Jewish." While we should be cognizant of what the world around us thinks, this awareness should not constitute a primary factor in our behavior or policy formation.

And He (Hashem) said: "Gaze, now, towards the Heavens, and count the stars if you are able to count them!" And He said to him, "So shall your offspring be!" (15:5)

In order to understand the foregoing simile, we must assume that the reference is to Avraham's descendants throughout the millennia. Otherwise, how are we to understand the inability to count the Jewish People? Are we that great in number that we cannot be counted? On the other hand, we find in the beginning of Sefer Devarim (1:10) that the Torah states: "Behold, you are like the stars of heaven in abundance." Rashi attributes this comparison to the eternal nature of the heavenly bodies. As they last forever, so, too, will the Jewish People be blessed with permanence.

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, suggests a novel exposition of this pasuk. The reason we cannot count the stars is that they cannot be seen. If we look up at the sky we can tally the number of stars that we observe. There are thousands of stars in the sky, however, that are so distant from us that we cannot see them. Consequently, they cannot be counted.

Klal Yisrael has its own unique infiniteness. We are all connected to an eternal source of life, encompassing every Jew who ever lived and is yet to be born. This is the concept of "V'chayei olam nota b'socheinu," "And (He has) implanted eternal life within us." Indeed, if one were to count the Jewish People and announce the total, he would not only be wrong, it would be a denial of the eternity of Klal Yisrael. Klal Yisrael is one eternal continuum in which every Jew is included. As the stars cannot be counted, so, too, is the number of Jews not within the parameters of human perception.


1. How did Avraham and Sarah "make" souls in Charan?

2. What was Avraham trying to accomplish when he claimed that Sarah was his sister?

3. What were Lot's shepherds doing that was inappropriate?

4. What other name did Amrafel have?

5. a. Who was the palit?

b. Why did he really relay the news of Lot's capture to Avraham?

6. Did Terach die a rasha?

7. When Yishmael was born Avraham was _____ years old.


1. They converted the pagans to the worship of Hashem.

2. He wanted the Egyptians to let him live and to give him presents.

3. They grazed their sheep in privately owned land.

4. Nimrod.

5. a. Og. b. He hoped Avraham would be killed attempting to rescue Lot. He would then be able to marry Sarah.

6. No. He repented before his death.

7. Eighty-six.


l'iylui nishmas
Rosh Hayeshiva Chicago Telz
Harav Chaim Schmelczer zt"l


Peninim on the Torah is in its 7th year of publication. The first three years have been published in book form.

The third volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588.

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
Jerusalem, Israel