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Lech Lecha

And Avram went up from Egypt, he with his wife and all that was his, and Lot with him, to the south. And Avram was very laden with livestock, silver, and gold. He proceeded on his journeys from the south to Beth-el, to the place where his tent had been at first, between Beth-el and Ai (Bereishis 13:1-3). Rashi explains: When Avram returned from Egypt to the Land of Canaan, he went and lodged in the same inns as he had stayed when he traveled to Egypt. This teaches you good manners; that one should not change his inn. Another interpretation; on his return he paid the debts he had previously incurred.

Some ask, we know that everything the Torah writes is to teach us a lesson, not just to tell a story. Here too, by telling us that when Avram returned to the Land of Canaan, he returned to the place where his tent had been at first, the Torah must want us to learn something from it. According to the first explanation in Rashi, it is understandable; the Torah is teaching us good manners, not to change one’s inn. But according to the second explanation, what is the novelty of telling us that now that Avram could afford it, he repaid his former debts? Any trustworthy person would surely do the same!

I once heard (or saw) a nice clarification; I don’t remember its source. In the previous chapter it is related, “And there was a famine in the land; and Avram went down to Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was severe in the land” (Ibid. 12-10). There, Rashi explains that the famine was in that land alone, in order to test Avram whether he would question Hashem’s commands in that He had bidden him to go to the land of Canaan and now forced him to leave it.

Avram, of course, passed the test with flying colors and asked no questions. Others, however, had lots of doubts. Everywhere Avram stayed, on the way down to Egypt, he spoke about Hashem and how wonderful it was to go in His ways and how happy one can be, in this world and the World-to-Come, if he obeys His commandments. But when people challenged him with the obvious question; “How come you, the true servant of G-d, are poor and have to wander to a strange land in order to exist,” he had no answer that would satisfy them. These were the “former debts” which Avram incurred on the way to Egypt. He owed answers to those who questioned his ways.

This explains, too, why Avram told his wife Sarei that he hoped that the Egyptians would give him presents for her sake (cf. Rashi, Ibid. 12:13). It seems quite strange that one who later refused to take “so much as a thread to a shoe strap” (Ibid. 14:23) from the King of Sedom, although Avram had jeopardized his life on behalf of his people, would look forward to receiving gifts gratis.

The answer is that Avram, consistently, had one goal in mind: kiddush Hashem (sanctification of Hashem’s name). When he suspected that the King of Sedom might take credit for Hashem’s blessings, Avram refused to take a thing, declaring, “So you shall not say, ‘It is I who made Avram rich.’” But when he was poor and people asked, “Why do the righteous suffer?”, then he was eager to get presents from the Egyptians to enable him to prove Hashem’s beneficence.

And when his wish came true, and the King of Egypt himself paid him handsomely as it says, “And he treated Avram well for her sake, and he acquired sheep, cattle, donkeys, slaves and maidservants, female donkeys, and camels” (Ibid. 12:16), Avram felt obligated to return to the inns where he had stayed before and “pay the debts he had previously incurred.” He showed them what he had acquired and taught them that even the servant of Hashem doesn’t always have it good; one must have patience to wait and see Hashem’s salvation which always comes at the end.

This is the lesson the Torah teaches us, according to the second explanation in Rashi. Sometimes, when one merits salvation from Hashem, he wonders whether or not he should publicize it. Maybe, he thinks to himself, it is a breach of modesty to brag about how Hashem helped me. Therefore, perhaps, King Dovid ended the chapter of thanksgiving, “Who is wise and will remember these, and they will consider the lovingkindness of Hashem?” (Tehillim 107:43). The conjugation of this passage (in the original Hebrew) is strange: He begins in the singular form and then switches to the plural. The explanation might be that King Dovid is not only telling people to remember Hashem’s lovingkindness so that they, themselves, might consider them; rather, he is telling them to share their experiences with others so that all of them will realize Hashem’s righteousness. This is one of the ways to sanctify Hashem’s name in His world.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel