[based on a compilation of ideas shared by Rav Yoseph B. Soloveitchik ztl]Lech Lecha (as the name of the parsha suggests) is a parsha replete with travels.
In a number of places within the stories of these travels, the Rav notes an underlying theme: Staying true to our beliefs, in the face of outside influence and pressure.
A closer look:
Ten verses in the parsha (12:10), Hashem tests Avraham by creating a famine in the land, forcing Avraham to go to Egypt. The Rav notes that Egypt at that time was a very attractive and cultured country. Would Avraham succumb to Egyptian society?
Hashem repeats this test with Yaakov and Yosef as well, both being sent to Egypt (willingly and otherwise), to show that a Jew can live in exile, while still retaining his spiritual identity – whether as a poor shepherd or a high ranking official. These trials were needed as examples to show us – the decedents of these giants – how to live in our eventual exile.
While Avraham thwarted the temptation of any Egyptian influence, some members of his entourage/family were not as strong-willed. His nephew, Lot, departs with Avraham from Egypt (13:1), but nuanced language in the text implies that Lot was not WITH Avraham in same manner he had been previously in the parsha.Earlier in the parsha (12:4), the Torah says:
וַיֵּלֶךְ אַבְרָם כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אֵלָיו ה’ וַיֵּלֶךְ אִתּוֹ לוֹט
When departing from Egypt, however, it says (13:1):
וַיַּעַל אַבְרָם מִמִּצְרַיִם הוּא וְאִשְׁתּוֹ וְכָל אֲשֶׁר לוֹ וְלוֹט עִמּוֹ הַנֶּגְבָּה
Lot’s accompaniment is an afterthought; an “oh by the way, Lot came too.” Lot is no longer the disciple of Avraham and monotheism he one was. He is in Avraham’s traveling group, but the experience in Egypt and of Egyptian culture creates an ideological and spiritual divide between him and Avraham.
I think there is further proof of this on their next journey from the south of Israel to Beit El (13:5). There the Torah uses a peculiar phrase of:
וְגַם לְלוֹט הַהֹלֵךְ אֶת אַבְרָם הָיָה צֹאן וּבָקָר וְאֹהָלִים
(We might expect the more common phrasing of: הַהֹלֵךְ עם
Why the added distance between them? Avraham went to Bet El for a specific purpose: To revisit the place where he erected an altar, described in 12:8, to thank Hashem (presumably for saving his family from (a) the famine, (b) Paraoh’s officers who fancied Sarah, and (c) spiritual decline in the face of Egyptian influence). Lot is far less enthusiastic about this journey to thank Hashem. (Note that persecution, hardship, and Lot’s indifference/rejection to Avraham’s mission, do not impede Avraham’s enthusiastic pursuit and service of Hashem).
One passuk later, Lot doesn’t even accompany Avraham at all. 13:6
וְלֹא נָשָׂא אֹתָם הָאָרֶץ לָשֶׁבֶת יַחְדָּו כִּי הָיָה רְכוּשָׁם רָב וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לָשֶׁבֶת יַחְדָּו
Lot becomes obsessed with his material wealth and he can no longer live peacefully with his uncle. At its heart, this was not a conflict over acreage; They no longer shared respect for each other or dreams for the future.
Later in the parsha, the Rav notes something very interesting regarding the two central covenants that form the Jewish people as Hashem’s children and nation. A covenant, he points out, is an agreement binding one or several parties to a set of obligations.
1. The first central covenant established was the “Patriarchic covenant” with Avraham, set forth in Lech Lecha 17:7
וַהֲקִמֹתִי אֶת בְּרִיתִי בֵּינִי וּבֵינֶךָ וּבֵין זַרְעֲךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ לְדֹרֹתָם לִבְרִית עוֹלָם
This covenant is repeated with Yitzchak (26:2) and with Yaakov (28:13-16).2. The second covenant is the “Sanaitic covenant
” – revelation at Har Sinai and the giving of the Torah, in which Moshe and all of Klal Yisrael participate (Shmos, chapter 19).
The covenant at Sinai – the acceptance of the yoke of Torah – has obvious obligations and commitments associated with it.
What obligations, however, are contained in the patriarchic covenant? Hashem made a promise to our forefathers — what obligations do we have to hold up our end of the bargain? What do we have to do in order to be a party to this covenant?
The Rav beautifully explains that “the patriarchic covenant apparently imparts teachings to the Jewish people by example rather than by prescription.” It teaches us how to experience our “Jewishness,” sensitizing us to ideals, mindsets, and values. “It guides our feelings and consciousness, rather than our actions, for we are duly bound not only to act as Jews but to feel as Jews.”
It is these feelings associated with the first covenant that are so key when trying to maintain our identity outside of our Homeland and in the times of Exile. The values of the Avos – some readily apparent in the stories of Breishis, others illuminated when we review and re-learn these stories as adults – inform our feelings, behavior and relation to both G-d and our fellow man.But how do we act like a Jew? How do we act like our Forefathers?
There are dozens of values and qualities that could be listed – compassion, chessed, truth, modesty, emunah, etc. to name a few. I think that one in particular that relates to maintaining our identity when outside our Homeland is loyalty to and longing to be back in that very Homeland.
The promise to the Avos is לְדֹרֹתָם לִבְרִית עוֹלָם – we are promised the Land will be ours forever. The Rav analogizes the Land to an agunah (a wife whose husband is missing) waiting for her husband (Klal Yisrael) to return. Will we remain loyal? I believe that maintaining this loyalty is an example of what the patriarchic covenant is supposed to mean to us, which “guides our feelings and consciousness, rather than our actions.” Part of that covenant is to remain loyal to the Land, always with Eretz Yisrael in our hearts and minds.
A husband can also be an agun; the Jewish people are an agun in the sense that we wait patiently to be reunited with our beloved land.
It is specifically because the Land was promised לְדֹרֹתָם , that we can continue to wait, knowing that our “spouse” is not lost forever, G-d forbid.
Lot loses his connection to Hashem and Avraham, specifically in a foreign land, lured away by the superficial beauty of Egypt. Avraham is eager to return to Bet El to thank and serve Hashem there. That eagerness to get back to his Land, seems to at least be part of the reason for his success outside the Land. מעשה אבות סימן לֹבנים
Finally, it is Interesting to note in the story of the 4 kings versus the 5 kings, that Avraham, against great odds, takes a small army against a much larger army, and travels long distances to rescue Lot from his captors. (14:14-15). Despite Lot’s recent rejection of Avraham’s teachings, his value as a person and as part Avraham’s newly Jewish family is not diminished. The Rav points out, that, caught in the whirlwind of history, there is no difference between a committed Jew and an assimilated Jew (our enemies certainly make no differentiation); both are affected by conflict, persecution and anti-semetism, and both are equally worthy of concern and saving.