Lech Lecha (Genesis 12-17 )
Bereishit, 13:14: “And HaShem spoke to Avram after the separation of Lot from him…”
Rashi, Bereishit, 13:14, Dh: Acharei: “The whole time that that wicked one [Lot] was with him [Avraham], Prophecy was taken from him. And earlier, when Lot was with him, and it says, ‘Hashem appeared to Avram’ – at that time he [Lot] was righteous.”
When Avraham embarks on his momentous journey to the Land of Israel, his nephew Lot joins him, to his great credit. However, the Torah relates that Lot experiences a serious decline in his spiritual level to the point where his presence prevents Avraham from receiving Prophecy, which only resumed once Lot separated from him due to a dispute among their shepherds.
The commentaries note that Prophecy is one of the greatest gifts one can receive, and they assume that Avraham realized that his lack of Prophecy was due to Lot’s continued presence. Based on these observations, they make an astonishing point: It is evident that Avraham felt it more important to remain with Lot in the hope that he could positively influence him, even though this meant that he had to sacrifice the incredible gift of Prophecy.1 It seems clear that Avraham was correct in his approach. The explanation for this is that G-d’s will is that we try to positively influence our fellow, to the extent that it overrides actual closeness to G-d.
A similar message is taught in Vayeira when Avraham abruptly stops his conversation with G-d in order to host guests (hachnachat orchim). The Sages2 learn from here that hosting guests is greater than speaking to the Divine Presence. How can this be? One answer is that by doing kindness with people, one is resembling G-d who does kindness with His people and this is even a greater closeness to G-d than actually speaking to Him. So too, bringing people closer to G-d is greater than receiving Prophecy in that it is a superior way of connecting to G-d.
One possible application of these ideas is that at certain times, it may be appropriate to devote some time focusing on the well-being of other people even at the expense of one’s own learning. The following, fascinating story, demonstrates this point. Rabbi Joey Grunfeld is a legendary figure in outreach in the UK – he was the head of the highly successful kiruv organization, Seed for many years. He relates the dilemma that he faced when he was an Avreich learning in the Gateshead Kollel and was asked to lead Seed. Seed was based in London so he spent most of the week there, and returned on Thursday to spend time with his children and learn in his Kollel. However, he had a number of concerns about his situation, one of which was that he was worried about his own spiritual growth since he was constantly exposed to unaffiliated Jews and students. He shared these concerns with the great Steipler Gaon: In his words, this is how the Steipler responded (with translation):
“He went to the shelf to get the book and showed it to me inside, in the Harchev Davar commentary. The Netziv3 discusses the righteous Yosef naming his son “Menashe,” because, as the verse says, “ki nashani Elokim es kol amali — Hashem has made us forget all my hardship.” But really, he should have said “es kol anyi.” The Midrash says that amali, which literally means “work” or “effort,” here refers to the Torah. Why would Yosef name his son in thanks for forgetting his Torah learning?
The Netziv answers that Yosef was busy with Potifar, was learning less, and began to forget his Torah, and he was upset about this. But once he started helping with the needs of the community, which the Midrash says is equivalent to learning Torah, then Yosef was able to celebrate by naming a child after this forgetfulness, since he would not be held accountable for the Torah he’d forgotten while helping the community. The message hit the spot. If I was working for the community, I didn’t need to mourn the time lost from learning.”
Needless to say, the Steipler’s advice was geared to the specific situation of Rabbi Grunfeld and his prior involvement in outreach and each person should seek their own Daas Torah as to how they should spend their time. Nonetheless, the point of the Netsiv and the application of the Steipler teaches that by giving up some of one’s own time in focusing on one’s own spiritual growth in order to be involved in communal matters, a person will not ultimately lose out, and will only gain in this relationship with G-d.
By Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen
- Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt”l also points out that the only thing that overrode Avraham’s efforts to positively influence Lot was the machlokes that developed between Avraham and Lot. This provides another example of the severity of machlokes.
- Yalkut Shimoni, Vayeira, Perek 2.
- Harchev Dvar, Bereishis, 41:51.
Reprinted with permission
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