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A Lot of Promises

By: Rav Ari Shames

Our parsha introduces us to the first of our forefathers, Avraham Avinu, and his arrival in Eretz (that will become) Yisrael. This is obviously a very significant episode for the Jewish People at this stage of history and all the more so in our generation which has been fortunate enough to reestablish itself in our Homeland.

The Message:

I would like to suggest that the very message of the entire Sefer Bereishit is the promise of Eretz Yisrael. What I mean by that is that instead of seeing the book as a series of varied points and lessons, there is actually one main theme that serves as the backbone of the entire book. This, of course, would be one understanding of the first Rashi in the Torah where he tells us that the opening of the Torah with the story of creation is meant to justify God's choice to give Eretz Yisrael to Am Yisrael. After all, He created the entire world, He has the right to do with it as he sees fit. Instead of seeing this point as relating to the creation story alone, I would like to suggest that it stands as THE message of the entire book.

[In a similar manner the Ramban at the opening section of the book writes that the main message of the entire book is reward and punishment. (We discussed the position of the Ramban in a previous shiur 11 years ago]

The indication to this idea is the concept of the "key words" used by many modern day commentaries in the analysis of sections of the Torah. If a word appears numerous times in a given section it is meant to signal the main point of the topic. Rav Samet in his important work (the series of shiurim that he gave on Parshat Hashavua) uses this methodology often in a more disciplined way. Rav Samet, based on the work of Cassuto, claims that the repetition of a word or phrase is not enough to grant it a special status. Rather, it must be used seven times (or a multiple of seven) for it to be deemed the "marker" of the unit. This repetition, then, is not simply over usage but rather the special "magical" number seven indicates that the Author placed it there to signal to us the central aspect and theme.

If we consider the entire Sefer Bereishit as one literary unit, which seems not be a hard assumption to support, we can note that the promise of Eretz Yisrael appears seven times (four!! in this week's parsha).

1 - 12:7 - The initial promise to Avraham before he even arrives.

2 - 13:14 - After he separates from Lot.

3 - 15:7/18 - As part of the Brit Ben Habtarim

4 - 17:8 - Introduction to Brit Milah

5 - 26:4 - The reassurance to Yitzchak

6 - 28:13 - The promise to Yaakov as he leaves the land

7 - 34:12 - The promise to Yaakov as he returns.

If our analysis is correct then we can see that God's promise to give us the land may actually serve as the main message of the entire book.

The next order of business is to try to understand why we are presented with multiple phrases of the same type and what the message is.

Most of the sources are easily explained. The promise of the land is made to each and every one of the Avot as they encounter the land in a significant manner - Avraham as he sets off for the land (source 1), Yitzchak as he considers leaving the land due to economic crisis (source 5) and Yaakov as he both leaves the land to the home of Lavan (source 6) and as he successfully returns (source 7).

In addition, the promise of the land is an integral part of the relationship between the Avot and God. It is inconceivable that there be a covenant between them without the fulcrum being Eretz Yisrael. In other words, we cannot have a proper religious experience without Eretz Yisrael (which is the exact far-reaching quote of the Gemara that Rashi notes Anyone living outside of the Land is as if they have no God). It is therefore natural for us to expect this to come up in the two major Britot, covenants, that take place in the Sefer - Brit Ben Habtarim (source 3) and Brit Milah (source 4).

Of all of the appearances of the promise of the Land, the odd one out seems to be that made upon the "divorce" of Lot (source 2). Why was it necessary at that stage to reiterate the commitment and promise relating to Eretz Yisrael?

The way we see things, Lot seems to be a secondary character. He is the one that accompanies Avraham from Charan, he is the one that benefits from the charade in Egypt, he is the one that parts ways from Avraham, he is the one that is taken captive and forces Avraham to act on his behalf, he is the center of the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gemorah with the ensuing episode of him and his daughters. In all of the episodes, he is not center stage and either enjoys good luck or bad to become part of the story.

It may be that Lot is a much more central figure that it seems, at least until this point. While we are focused on Avraham Avinu, if one reads the story carefully, it would seem that he and Lot are a team. Through every stage of the journey it is Lot who accompanies Avraham. From the initial move from Charan down to Egypt, Lot is always in the scene. The rift between the two of them seems to be purely technical, too many sheep for not enough resources, necessitating a split. It would seem that Avraham was not fully aware of his unique mission. He sees Lot as the equal partner in his quest.

It is only after Lot leaves him that God once again approaches Avraham and restates the commitment to Eretz Yisrael. The message is that it is you, Avraham, who is supposed to be the one to carry this out.

There are several indications that this is the message at this stage. Firstly the language is slightly but significantly different this time around. The original promise was to give the Land to the descendents of Avraham (15:7) - this time the promise is to Avraham AND his descendents (13:15). [Some of the commentaries point out that originally Lot thought that the land was promised to the heirs of Avraham, of which he was the primary heir.]

In addition, there is a very interesting Rashi on our section of the parsha. In passuk 13:14 the Torah states that "God spoke to Avraham after Lot had separated from him". Rashi quotes a midrash Tanchuma that says that as long as Lot was with him, God would not speak to him; it was only after Lot has left that God approached Avraham. (In the standard edition there is an added part that tries to deal with the question of the original revelation when Lot was still around.)

The Chavel addition of Rashi quotes the original printing of Rashi (in footnote 56) that adds that God had actually originally intended that Avraham travel without Lot, as it says lech lecha, in the singular. Lot was seen by God as a fifth wheel from the outset. At this stage, when Lot leaves, God feels the need to renew the promise to the intended party, Avraham.

Food for thought-

What is the relationship between Lot and Avraham in the next two parshiot? How does Avraham feel about him and what does he see as his level of responsibility?

Shabbat Shalom

Rav Shames


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