|Lecha This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my maternal grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my paternal grandfather Moshe Ben Yosef A”H, uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-HaRav Gedalia Dov Ben Perel
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Yechiel Baruch HaLevi Ben Liba Gittel
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah
-Amitai Dovid Ben Rivka Shprintze
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
לֶךְ לְךָ ● Lech Lecha
● Did the benefits not obviously way out the costs of “Lech Lecha”? Why is Lot’s presence mentioned twice? ●
“Lecha or L’Shmah?”
As was discussed, Avraham Avinu was commanded to leave his homeland with the famous words “Lech Lecha”-“Go for you”1 which has classically understood to mean, “go for your benefit.” But, what exactly is this supposed benefit? There are apparently several of them, as Hashem would go on to promise Avraham many blessings, among them, a great name, a great nation, and wealth.2
Now, obeying this instruction, according to many, is one of Avraham’s famous “Ten Trials.”3
Was it Such a Test?
Granted, the task, at face value, is a difficult one, but if one thinks about the payoff—the rewards which Avraham was guaranteed, the benefits undoubtedly weigh out any losses he might have suffered through this trial. Moreover, he heard G-d Himseld recommend that he leave his home. But again, if wasn’t enough that G-d made both His Presence and His will known to Avraham, He also promised to provide him with everything a man could ask for in life making the offer really one that could not be refused.
With the above in mind, what aspect of this command actually made this experience into a test for Avraham? Surely, Avraham was going to do what G-d told him, especially if it’s “for his benefit.” Why, then, is this considered among the great tests through which Avraham Avinu forged his legendary legacy?
A Lot of Lot
In the Pasuk following the commandment for Avraham to leave his home, the Torah informs us that his nephew Lot went with him as well, as the Pasuk states, “Vayeilech Avram Ka’asheir Dibeir Hashem Eilav Vayeilech Ito Lot…”-“And Avram went just as Hashem had spoken to him and Lot went with him….”4
But, what is strange is that, all of a sudden, in the following Pasuk, when listing the things that Avraham brought a long with him, Lot is oddly mentioned yet again; “Vayikach Avram Es Sarai Ishto V’Es Lot Ben Achiv…”-“And Avram took Sarai his wife and Lot, his brother’s son [his nephew]…”5
Why does the Torah go to trouble to remind us that Lot was with Avraham again? Surely, one mention is enough to get the message across that Lot was in attendance. Since we’re taught traditionally that there are no extra words or even extra letters in the Torah, the Torah’s mentioning of Lot’s name a second time seems quite peculiar. What message is the Torah trying to convey by mentioning Lot again?
A Deeper Test in Lech Lecha
Regarding the original question as to what the test behind “Lech Lecha” was, it could be that, yes, G-d made the test easier for Avraham by laying out the reward beforehand. However, there is still an unavoidable challenge that would inevitably come with leaving home, regardless of all the benefits. Surely, the command itself is a fairly demanding test.
However, as is the case with many tests and experiments, what is being gauged is not always obvious. Often enough, aside from the instructions themselves, there is another, hidden variable being measured. Perhaps we can suggest that the test, or at least a key dimension of the test, was not if Avraham would leave his home or not, rather, how he would do so—what his attitude would be when he ultimately fulfilled the commandment. Meaning, Hashem told him, “Lech Lecha…”-“Go for your benefit…,”1 but Avraham did not merely go for his own benefit.
On the contrary, the Pasuk says, “Vayeilech Avram Ka’asheir Dibeir Eilav Hashem…”-“And Abram went, as Hashem had spoken to him…,”4 meaning, Avraham decided that he would fulfill G-d’s word, “L’Shmah,” for its own sake. In other words, he was making the big move, not because he’d be rewarded, but simply because the righteous and just G-d told him to do so.
But, how do we know that Avraham truly went through this mission with purity of heart and no intentions of material gain? The truth is that the words “as Hashem had spoken to him” are kind of ambiguous. Just a moment ago, we suggested that they meant that Avraham went solely because he was commanded. But, who says that the verse means, for certain, that Avraham merely went because he was commanded? Maybe, one can just as easily read this verse as evidence that Avraham left his home because of the argument that G-d made, that Avraham would benefit. That is fact the way we read the similar verse describing how Hashem would forgive the B’nei Yisrael following the Sin of the Spies. In Sefer Bamidbar, Hashem declares, “Salachti K’Dvarecha”-“I have forgiven you according to your word,”6 and there, the verse is understood to mean that G-d forgave the people specifically in response to the argument put forward by Moshe Rabbeinu and not merely because Moshe asked nicely. The question is what motivated Avraham and how can we know for sure.
Sometimes, it is just easier to truly understand something from its opposite or its foil. And, if we consider the larger narrative of our Sidrah, Avraham has an unquestionable foil. And that would be his nephew Lot.
But, in order to truly understand Lot, we have to decipher the redundancy in our passage revolving Lot. Let us return to that discussion.
Two Motivations for Lot’s Participation
Earlier, we asked why the Torah essentially told us twice that Lot came along. It didn’t need to convey the same message more than once. But, what if the two verses are actually conveying two different messages? If we could prove that, perhaps the Torah was not being so redundant. The question is: What would those two messages be?
Looking back at the Pesukim, the Torah first relates, “…Vayeilech Ito Lot…”-“…and Lot went with him…,”4 and then later relates, “Vayikach Avram…Es Lot Ben Achiv”-“And Avram took…Lot his brother’s son [his nephew]…”5
The second Pasuk mentioning Lot adds two phrases which it had not used to describe Lot’s attendance earlier. Firstly, we have the inclusion of “Vayikach Avram…”-“And Avram took [him]…,” and secondly, Lot is referred to as “Ben Achiv”-“his [Avram’s] brother’s son”—his nephew.
Based on this verse, Chizkuni informs us that since Lot was Avraham’s nephew, being the son of Avram’s brother Haran, Avraham felt a personal sense of Achrayus or responsibility to actively take Lot under his wing and support him.
With this information, perhaps we may conclude that the two occurrences of Lot’s name are not exactly telling us the same thing, so indeed, nothing is superfluous. Except, there is still one problem: If the Torah wanted us to know that (1) Lot was present, (2) Lot was Avraham’s nephew and (3) Avraham was personally taking care of him, the Torah could have notified us with a single Pasuk, mentioning Lot’s name once.
For example, if one were writing an essay or story, one wouldn’t write, “David went with John. John took his friend David with him.” Even if the writer wanted to demonstrate that David is John’s friend and that John took him along, one would simply leave out the first part and just state that “John took his friend David with him.” Similarly, the Torah should have just dropped the first verse, kill three birds with one stone and leave it as the second Pasuk finely does, “Vayikach Avram…Es Lot Ben Achiv”-“And Avram took…Lot his brother’s son [his nephew]…”5 Why did we need the earlier verse to tell us that Lot came along?
Obviously is that the Torah is not an essay or a simple historical record of the Jewish people. You don’t need a G-d to record history that any human can jot down in a notepad somewhere. The Torah, divinely authored, communicates the divine mind and teaching us about those things that man himself might not always notice, in this case, the multiple layers of Lot’s participation in the journey.
What was the Torah implying about Lot’s presence in Avraham’s entourage on his divine quest? Chizkuni has already explained how the Pasuk demonstrates Avraham’s intention for taking Lot along. But, what about the first part, that Lot actively went with Avraham? Avraham took Lot because Lot was his nephew and Avraham felt responsible for him. But, why did Lot choose to go?
A deeper analysis of Lot’s role in the story might teach us a lot about Lot and provide an answer to our question. While the Torah does not reveal Lot’s motivation, many M’forshim comment that G-d never authorized Avraham to take him along. And Lot’s behavior later on in the trip would reveal why that was. The narrative demonstrates how Lot would end up caught up in his newly acquired wealth and his drive for materialistic benefit which ultimately draws him to relocate to the wicked, immoral and materialistic community in the land of Sodom.7
From his future behavior alone, it certainly doesn’t seem like Lot had the best or at least the purest of intentions.
Now, perhaps we’re jumping to conclusions about Lot. Yes, Lot made a “spiritual mistake” by choosing to live in Sodom. Perhaps his wealth got the better of him. But, who says that that means that his motivation all along was impure? Maybe, his original goal was to aid Avraham in spreading the will of G-d to the world, and so forth. How do we know what Lot’s original intentions were?
Lot’s “Gotcha” Moment
The truth is, Lot, like anyone else deserves our benefit of the doubt. To determine a person’s intentions is not so simple and to cast aspersions against any person without the full picture. Instead of overreacting, we do have to patient with people and judge “L’Kaf Zechus”8—on the side of favor.
And indeed, that is what we will do with Lot. We will be patient. Because, if we are patient, we will see that the Torah paints a fuller picture for us that unequivocally provides everything we need to know about Lot.
When the Torah begins to describe the excess of wealth which leads to the unfortunate breakup between Avraham and Lot, it writes, “V’Gam L’Lot HaHoleich Es Avram Hayah Tzon U’Vakar V’Ohalim”-“And also Lot, who went along with Avram, had flocks, cattle and tents.”9
Now, this is yet the third time we’re informed that Lot was there. By now, this is really old news. Why are we told yet again that Lot went along with Avraham?
However, based on everything we’ve explained thus far, while this verse is the third one to mention Lot’s presence, it is the second one to specify that Lot came along. Before, we had one verse that said that Lot went on his own accord and one verse that said Avraham took his nephew Lot with him. This third verse is modeled after the former. It does not say that Lot “whom Avram took along” had amassed wealth. It does not say that “Avram’s nephew” Lot was loaded with riches. Rather, it was Lot “who went with Avram.” In other words, the very same Lot who went with Avraham on his own accord, with his own agenda, became exceedingly prosperous. That is the Lot that had too much material wealth to live with Avraham. That is the Lot who ultimately went down to Sodom.
With Lot caught red-handed, his motivation for going along in the first place becomes clear. It was not for spiritual growth or the Abrahamic mission. He went for material gain—the Abrahamic benefits. He didn’t go L’Shmah, but for self-gratification. Indeed, he was in it for himself, capitalizing on Hashem’s promise of “Lecha,” the personal benefits. The proof is that once he had those benefits, he took them with him and walked away, ditching Avraham’s mission. That was the Lot who “went with Avram.”
Back to Avraham
Now, with all the dirt on Lot, we can better understand Avraham and his intentions. As was mentioned earlier, it is difficult to truly assess a man’s intentions as is it something that lies deep within a person’s essence. Only G-d can know for sure.
However, regarding Avraham’s taking of Lot, we know that it was because Lot was his nephew whom he felt a responsibility for that Avraham took him. Clearly, Avraham’s motivation was Lot’s welfare. He took him along, L’Shmah. Moreover, when the wealth and blessings of “Lech Lecha,” came, Avraham was not swayed. Avraham would later deny the wealth offered him by the king of Sodom10, and when the promise of having children would seemingly be broken before his very eyes as G-d instructed him to sacrifice his own son11, he accepted that reality and continued to follow G-d!
“M’Toch SheLo L’Shmah Ba L’Shmah”12
With all that we’ve said, we cannot ignore the inherent merit in Lot’s decision to join Avraham. Chazal teach us that “M’Toch SheLo L’Shmah Ba L’Shmah”-“Through that which is not for its own sake will eventually come that which is for its own sake.”12 This means that even when one acts without proper intentions, he may eventually gain the right intentions. This rule demonstrates that it is worth it for one to make the right spiritual decisions even if for the wrong reasons.
But, if this is true, why did Lot fail? This glaring challenge forces us to reconsider the meaning of this statement that “M’Toch SheLo L’Shmah Ba L’Shmah”-“Through that which is not for its own sake will eventually come that which is for its own sake.”
It could be that yes, consistently making the right decisions despite the wrong intentions can help a person develop the right intentions. However, that is only if one does not get caught up and consumed in those wrong intentions, because at the same time, those wrong intentions can keep a person indefinitely below the L’Shmah-standard so that sooner or later, he will merely choose based on gain.
While one may admittedly do what’s right for the wrong reasons, one has to be conscious of the goal, which is to always to make the right decisions L’Shmah. If he sees that as the goal, perhaps one day, he will get there. But, if he does not have such aspirations, it is only a matter of time before his decisions to do good fade away. Because, even if one, for example, places himself in the correct environment—be it a Yeshiva, a good Shul, or a religious community—if one doesn’t want to grow and has specifically negative motivations, his “Evil Inclination” will not allow him to grow and will be quick to satisfy those negative motivations even at the expense of the right decisions. And since one will become so accustomed to acting out of self-gratification alone, when he has to eventually choose between that which is spiritually right and that which is not, he will choose that which is not if self-gratification dictates that he should. That was exactly what happened to Lot.
Surely, in life, one can implement the lesson learned from Avraham and Lot. Many times, one has a choice to make, whether or not to do what’s right, and the Yeitzer HaRa is firmly on top of him, pushing towards the negative. But even when one sees through the Yeitzer HaRa’s first ruse and chooses what’s right, the Yeitzer HaRa plants a second trap and pushes one to consider only that which will be most beneficial to oneself, even when one is making the correct external choices. We must therefore remember when it is that we are truly worthy of reward; when we do what’s right, not because it benefits us, but because Hashem tells us to—because it’s the right thing.
It is this attitude precisely which Avraham Avinu manifested that made him the true paradigm of Chessed or lovingkindness and the perfect emulator of G-d, righteously giving, purely L’Shmah. If Avraham is our constant source of inspiration, then we can follow his path and rest assured that “M’Toch SheLo L’Shmah Ba L’Shmah.”
May we all be Zocheh to not only do the right thing by following G-d’s word, but to reach the level of acting L’Shmah, acting for Hashem’s sake as it were, and He should act for ours, bringing us the Geulah and the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Bereishis 12:1
- 12:2; See Rashi’s comments there.
- Pirkei Avos 5:3
- Bereishis 12:4
- Bereishis 12:5
- Bamidbar 14:20
- Bereishis 13:5-13
- Pirkei Avos 1:6
- Pesachim 50B