To Dedicate Please Contact: Hadrash Ve-Haiyun
He proceeded on his journeys from the south to Beis-el, to the place where his tent had been at first, between Beis-el and Ai to the site of the altar which he had made there at first; and there Avram invoked Hashem by Name. (Bereishis 13:3, 4)
In this weekís parsha we learn how Avram originally settled in the vicinity of Beis-el. Here he set up his tent and built an altar. Soon after, there was a famine forcing him to travel to Egypt. In Egypt Sarai was abducted and after a series of events was returned to Avram. At this point Pharaoh instructed them to leave Egypt. Avram returned to the vicinity of Beis-el to the location of his original tent and altar.
When the Torah mentions that Avram returned to the location where his tent was established before leaving for Egypt it uses the word tehíchiílah, whereas when the Torah mentions that he returned to the place where he set up an altar it uses the word riíshoínah. In the context of the posukim both the word tehíchiílah and riíshoínah seem to convey exactly the same thing, i.e., as was at first. Indeed, targum unkolus translates both words exactly the same, baíkadímeiísa. Why did the Torah use different words?
It is noteworthy that we find the same contrast in a posuk that describes the end of the days, ďAnd I shall restore your Judges as in earliest times and your counselors as at firstĒ (Isaiah 1:26). An adaptation of this posuk is found in our shemoneh esrei prayer. In the eleventh blessing we ask Hashem to restore our Judges as in earliest times and our counselors as at first. In connection to Judges the posuk and prayer use the word riíshoínah whereas in connection to counselors the posuk uses the word tehíchiílah. Why the change?
The Malbim (Sefer Hakarmel) explains the difference between the word tehíchiílah and riíshon. Riíshon is a word that represents the first member of a larger set of numbers. Rishon is followed by sheiíni, shíliíshie, rehíviíie, etc. On the other hand tehíchiílah represents the incipient stage of doing something without connecting it to what follows. Each of these words has a unique connotation. The word tehíchiílah conveys the excitement and freshness of doing something for the very first time. Riíshon conveys the first event in a sequence of events that have already been done or established. When one encounters the riíshon, one has the foresight and knowledge of what comes next. In short, both words mean the beginning but tehíchiílah means starting in the beginning for the very first time; whereas riíshon means starting from the beginning with the experience of having done this before or knowing what is coming next.
Throughout our history we have always had Judges. However as we travel in time and move further away from the Matan Torah, the stature of our judges are diminished. We pray that Hashem should return to us Judges as they were in the earliest times. We request Judges of the highest caliber. This does not take away from the fact that all the Judges in history were exceptionally holy and outstanding leaders. The posuk and prayer therefore use the word kaívaíriíshoníah. The first Judges were the first in a sequence of many that were to follow. However when we pray for counselors, we use the word tehíchiílah. The commentators (Olas Tamid) tell us that counselors refer to the prophets. Chazal tell us that no two prophets prophesize with the same style. Chazal intimate with this statement that prophets are not people that you can group together in a set or sequence. Each prophet in completely unique in his manner of style, vision and message. Therefore, when we pray for the return of the prophets, we use the word tehíchiílah for we cannot group together later prophets with earlier ones in a group or sequence as the word riíshon would connote. Each prophet was like the first and last.
We find this theme in our parsha. When Avram left Egypt he retuned to the place of his original tent and altar in Beis-el. The tent is symbolic of Avramís physical and material welfare. The altar is symbolic of his spiritual welfare. With regard to his tent, i.e., his physical welfare the posuk says that he returned to the place where it was baítehíchiílah. The choice of this word indicates that it was as if he never left. Although Avram suffered physically and emotionally in Egypt at the hands of Pharaoh and his people the experience had no lasting effect on him. When he returned it was as if he never left. However with regard to his altar, i.e., spiritual welfare, the posuk says that he returned to the place where his altar was baíriíshona. This choice of this word indicates that he did not forget the spiritual trials and lessons he experienced in Egypt. The altar to which he retuned was just the first of many altars. Each spiritual experience that occurred from the time he left until his return was another altar from which he grew spiritually.
These two posukim teach us the greatness of Avraham Avinu. Avraham left Beis-el for Egypt. Although he went through difficult times he was able to extract the spiritual aspect of his experiences, incorporate them into his spiritual being and not get distracted or sidetracked from the harmful mundane elements of his experiences.
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5764/2003