Parshas Lech Lecha (5774)
Many of the details mentioned in the stories recounted in Sefer Bereishit (Genesis) seem to be irrelevant or inconsequential. Why do we need to know how many wells were dug by our forefathers or exactly who prepared the food for the heavenly visitors to Abraham's tent? What is the significance of the Torah telling us about Avraham's travels through the land of Canaan or where he went when there was a famine in the country?
Ramban (Nachmanides) in this week's parsha addresses this exact question: "I will explain to you a general rule regarding all the upcoming parshios that deal with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Everything that happened to our forefathers is symbolic of what will occur to their children. Therefore, the Torah relates at great length the travels, the digging of the wells and the other various occurrences. One might think that these stories are unnecessary, while in reality they were all written to inform us of what will happen in the future" (Bereishit 12, 6). For example, Ramban (ibid. 26, 20) explains how the three wells dug by Yitzchak symbolize the three Batei HaMikdash (Holy Temples in Jerusalem) that will exist over the course of time.
Rav Shlomo Wolbe Z"L elaborates on this idea. In order for a tree to grow one must plant a seed in the ground. The type of tree is determined by which seed was planted and how it took root. Just as this concept is true with regard to the physical world, it applies to the spiritual realm as well. The Avos are not only our roots in a physical sense, they are also our spiritual roots because every action of theirs was carried out with the intention of creating a spiritual nation. Their actions are the seeds, and the sprouts that grew out of those seeds can be perceived through what has occurred to the Jewish People in the course of history.
When the wicked Bilam planned to curse the Jewish people, his intention was to annihilate them by destroying their roots. For this reason he had seven alters built, since he wished to rival the seven alters that were erected by our patriarchs. However, he was unsuccessful in his attempts, as he himself stated: "I look at their beginnings and their roots and I see that through the actions of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs their foundations are concrete like mountains and hills" (Rashi to Numbers 23, 9).
Although the Avos succeeded greatly in their endeavors, nevertheless, they had the ability to do even more. Our sages tell us (Talmud, Bava Metzia 85a) regarding Abraham's hospitality toward the three angels that every action he performed personally garnered a reward that was performed by Hashem (G-d) Himself, while every action that Abraham performed through an emissary garnered a reward that was performed by an emissary of Hashem. Additionally, a few verses later in this week's parsha (ibid. 12, 10), Ramban writes that because Abraham did not place complete faith in Hashem that He would sustain him in the time of famine, and left the country in which he had been commanded to reside, his offspring suffered the exile in Egypt!
Our sages teach us that it was because Abraham took along the Torah Scholars when he waged war against the Four Kings, that his descendants became slaves in Egypt for two hundred and ten years. What should Abraham have done differently? How could he fight mighty armies with a handful of warriors? It seems that Abraham who was planting seeds with every action, could have done even more, thereby changing that which would sprout from his actions.
How does all this apply to us? Firstly, it gives us a new appreciation of every single word written in the Torah. Not one verse, word or letter is extra. Additionally, there are instances when we too have the ability to plant seeds for the future. Every Rosh Hashana plants the seeds for the following year and during those two days we must be extra careful with our behavior. Likewise, every Shabbat sets the tone for the upcoming week. Finally, this knowledge gives us an incentive to strive for greater heights. If the Torah tells us that even Abraham could have done more, then most certainly we can do more.
Perhaps if we take a look at how much Rav Ovadya Yosef ZT"L, who passed away this, accomplished in his lifetime, we will get an appreciation of what a single person can accomplish. Yehi Zichro Baruch.