"And I will make of you a great nation; I will bless you and make
your name great, and you shall be a blessing" (12:2)
The Mishna in Pirkei Avos teaches that Avraham our father
was tested with ten trials of faith. According to all commentaries, the
directive of "lech lecha" - "go for yourself" is included as one of those
trials. However, coupled with this directive, Avraham was promised fame,
fortune, and many children. Therefore, how does this directive constitute
a test? If a person is guaranteed fame, fortune and children, what could
possibly impede him from going? Furthermore, most people of a lesser faith
than Avraham would follow Hashem's directive even without the promise of
reward. Why is it necessary for Hashem to promise Avraham all of these benefits?
Rashi comments that "lecha" - "for yourself" means "for your pleasure and
benefit". Why does Avraham have to be told that enjoying fame, fortune
and many children is for his pleasure and benefit?
Some commentaries attempt to explain that Avraham was told of the rewards
which await him because the test was to see whether Avraham's incentive to
go would be the rewards or the fact that Hashem had commanded him to do so.
However, this interpretation cannot be correct, for the purpose of a test is
for man to grow and develop his potential. Testing Avraham's incentive is
not a way to develop his potential. Hashem has no benefit from attempting to
frustrate man. Additionally, the verse says "lech lecha" - "go for
yourself"; Hashem wants Avraham to go for his benefit and pleasure, not in
spite of them.
We all go through life struggling to choose what is good over what is
pleasurable for us. We contemplate whether we should eat healthy foods or
enjoyable unhealthy foods. We deliberate whether it would be better to have
a faithful marriage and the responsibility of raising children, or to be
free to consort with whomever we please. The reason why we struggle as such
is because we define pleasure as physical gratification. If man would
realize that the greatest possible pleasure, a pleasure which transcends
base physical gratification is the feeling he receives from doing what is
right, all of his internal tension would dissipate. The feeling of ennobling
ourselves by doing the will of Hashem is a pleasure which we carry with us
throughout our lives. We must redefine for ourselves what true pleasure is,
what really makes us feel good.
The test that Avraham is faced with is following Hashem for his pleasure and
benefit; Hashem is testing Avraham to see whether he considers carrying out
the will of Hashem and experiencing pleasure to be one and the same. The
pleasure of doing what is right should override those forbidden pleasures
which tempt us. This is man's ultimate test, which will determine whether he
will go through life frustrated and unhappy because of unfulfilled desires,
or contented and fulfilled due to the knowledge that he is doing what is
right. "Lech lecha" - "go for yourself" is a test to determine whether
Avraham is going for his pleasure, whether his pleasure comes from adhering
to the directive of Hashem. The rewards of fame and fortune occur subsequent
to Avraham's fulfillment of the directive of "lech lecha"; they are not the
pleasure and benefit alluded to in the directive of "lech lecha".
"...and Avraham was seventy-five years old when he left
The chronology of this week's parsha poses many difficulties. The Torah
begins with Avraham's arrival in Eretz Yisroel at the age of seventy-five. A
short while later Avraham is forced by famine to descend to Mitzrayim. The
Torah then records the dispute between the shepherds of Avraham and the
shepherds of Lot, which leads to their separation. Following the separation,
the Torah records the war of the four kings who came primarily from lands
east of the Jordan River against the five kings who came from lands west of
the Jordan River. The four kings are victorious, capturing the five kings
and their territories, and ultimately Avraham conquers the four kings.
Finally, the Torah records the Covenant of the Pieces.
According to the Seder Olam, which is the consensus of most commentaries,
Avraham was seventy years old at the Covenant of the Pieces. According to
the Baalei Hatosfos, the war of the kings occurred when Avraham was
seventy-three. Therefore, the parsha begins with Avraham going to Eretz
Yisroel at the age of seventy-five, and almost immediately descending to
Mitzrayim. Then the parsha records the war of the kings when Avraham was
seventy-three, and finally, the Covenant of the Pieces when he was seventy.
Although "ayn mukdam ume'uchar baTorah" - "the Torah is not written to
reflect chronological sequence", the logical manner in which to record
information is chronologically. Therefore, whenever the Torah departs from a
chronological sequence, an explanation is required.
In the Midrashim of this week's parsha we are introduced to the concept of
"Ma'asey avos simon labanim" - "The actions of the Patriarchs are a portent
for the children." On one level, this is to be understood that the
refinement of character which our forefathers underwent was genetically
engraved upon them and subsequently bequeathed to their offspring.
Developing the theme set by the Midrash, the Ramban adds a second facet to
the notion of the actions of the Patriarchs being a portent for the
children. He explains that events which transpired in Avraham's life were
prophetic symbols, ensuring future blessings for his descendants. The
explanation for this is as follows: Using the Torah as the blueprints, the
world was created with a master plan and purpose, the ultimate goal of man
being to reveal Hashem's glory. Which nations and individuals who would
play a pivotal role in achieving this result, would be determined by the
choices they make. Although the Patriarchs were worthy Chariots to be the
bearers of Hashem's glory in this world, this would not necessarily assure
that their offspring would be included in the master plan. Even
prophesies assuring the creation and continuity of offspring can be
abrogated by the sins of those offspring, as the Talmud states, "shemah
yigrom hachayt" - "perhaps sin will intercede". A prophesy accompanied by
the actions of the Patriarchs foreshadowing the event, guarantees that
history will unfold in the manner prophesied.
The Avos have the ability to orchestrate the course of Jewish history.
Therefore, the events of Avraham's life must be viewed on two planes: those
events which affect him individually, and those in which he functions as the
head of the corporate entity of Klal Yisroel. The Torah reflects a sequence
of events as they affect the entity of Klal Yisroel, not necessarily as they
unfold in Avraham's private life. Avraham's going down to Egypt because of
the famine foreshadows Bnei Yisroel going down to Egypt because of a famine.
Pharoah attempts to take Sarah from Avraham, much the same way as the
Egyptians attempt to kill all of the male Jewish children so that they could
take the females for themselves. Avraham leaves Mitzrayim with great
wealth, ensuring that his descendants would do the same. When entering Eretz
Yisroel,a dispute with Lot ensues. Similarly, when attempting to enter Eretz
Yisroel, Bnei Yisroel are confronted by Ammon and Moav, descendants of
Lot. Bnei Yisroel conquer the east side of the Jordan, and in the days of
Yehoshua, the west side of the Jordan, foreshadowed by Avraham defeating the
Rashi offers a detailed description of how the Covenant of the Pieces made
irrevocable the gift of Eretz Yisroel to Bnei Yisroel and ensured their
survival from the times of the Davidic Dynasty, followed by the four
monarchies which will dominate Bnei Yisroel in exile, and culminating with
the coming of Moshiach.
Parshas Lech Lecha reflects the entire gamut of Jewish history, beginning
with the descent to Egypt and concluding with the coming of Moshiach. It is
this chronology that the parsha follows, with Avraham functioning as a
Patriarch impacting upon his descendants rather than the sequence of his own