Geographic Proximity

Vayateik mi’sham ha’harah mi’kedem l’Beis El va’yeit ohalo Beis El mi’yam v’ha’Ai mi’kedem (Bereishis 12:8)

 After Hashem commanded Avraham to leave his homeland, Avraham took his family and traveled to the land of Canaan, where Hashem appeared to him and promised to give the entire land to his descendants. The Torah records that Avraham then relocated to a mountain east of Beis-El and pitched his tent there, with Beis-El to the west and Ai to the east.

Harav Yehudah Leib Fein, Hy”d, the Rav of Slonim who was murdered by the Nazis in 1941, points out that the Torah’s geographical description seems counter-intuitive. The Torah begins by recording the location of Avraham’s tent as a mountain east of Beis-El, which seems appropriate, as the heretofore anonymous mountain could not be used as a geographical landmark, and it was therefore logical to describe its location relative to the well-known city of Beis-El. However, the verse proceeds to record that Avraham pitched his tent with Beis-El to the west and Ai to the east, which seems difficult to understand. How is it possible to describe the locations of established cities in relation to a mountain whose precise whereabouts are unknown?

Rav Fein explains, based on a story that occurred when he was traveling on a train. He overheard one Jew asking another, “Where is the city of Lida?” The second Jew responded, “It’s near Radin.” As Rav Fein listened to their conversation, he was astonished. Lida was one of the largest and most populous cities in the region, whereas Radin was a tiny little town that could easily be overlooked on a map. How was it possible to describe the well-known Lida based on its proximity to the forgettable village of Radin, which would be comparable to describing Manhattan as being located across the river from Hoboken?

Rav Fein explains that although Radin was physically small and undeveloped, it was well-known for a different reason: It was the home of the Chofetz Chaim, the most renowned Rabbi in his generation. As a result, the otherwise unremarkable town of Radin had become transformed into a major landmark, to the point that it eclipsed the significance of its much larger neighbor Lida, and it was now appropriate to express the location of Lida based on its proximity to the much-smaller Radin of the Chofetz Chaim.

Similarly, Rav Fein continues and explains that when Avraham initially came to set up his tent on a mountain, the mountain was undistinguished and could not be used to identify Avraham’s location, which was therefore described as being to the east of Beis-El. However, the moment that the great and righteous Avraham established his home on the mountain, it was immediately transformed into a central landmark, far more noteworthy than the city of Beis-El, and the Torah conveys this by telling us that as soon as Avraham pitched his tent on the mountain, it outshone the more established cities of Beis-El and Ai around it, and they were now described based on their proximity to Avraham’s mountain.

Rav Fein shared this thought at a ceremony that was held to celebrate the opening of Harav Aharon Kotler’s yeshivah in the city of Kletzk. He added that until that time, the small town of Kletzk was relatively unknown, but now that the brilliant Rav Aharon Kotler was establishing a yeshivah there with such well-respected and learned students, it would experience a similar elevation, and the time would soon come when locals would describe much larger cities in its environs based on their proximity to Rav Aharon’s Kletzk. Although the yeshivah in Kletzk is sadly no longer in existence, Rav Aharon survived the war and went on to establish the largest yeshivah in the world outside of Israel in the town of Lakewood, New Jersey, and one can now proudly tell visitors to the region that Manhattan is approximately 60 miles north of Lakewood.

Q: What was the name of Avraham’s mother, and who else in Tanach had a mother with the same name?

Q: Rashi writes (12:5) that when setting out for the land of Canaan, Avraham and Sarah took the people they had converted during their time in Charan. Why don’t we find any mention of them continuing to make converts after they left Charan?

A: The Gemara in Bava Basra (91a) records that the name of Avraham’s mother was Amasla’i, the daughter of Karnivo. Interestingly, the Gemara adds that Haman’s mother was also named Amasla’i, the daughter of Orvasi. The Gemara gives a mnemonic device in order to keep them straight and avoid confusion. The pure and righteous Avraham was the grandson of Karnivo, which is associated with the word “karim,” a term for fattened sheep, which are kosher animals. On the other hand, the grandmother of the wicked and evil Haman was Orvasi, a name which is connected to the word “oreiv — raven,” an unkosher bird.

A: The Mishmeres Ariel notes that when the time came to seek a spouse for Yitzchak, Avraham insisted (24:3–4) that Eliezer not choose a wife from their Canaanite neighbors, but rather from Avraham’s original homeland in Charan. He cites the Kli Yakar, who explains that although the people of Charan also worshiped idols, he knew that at the core their character traits were wholesome. Since unethical behavior originates in one’s essence and can be passed on genetically, the Canaanites were disqualified from marrying into Avraham’s family. On the other hand, matters of belief are taught, not inherited, so the idolatrous beliefs in Charan could be remedied by educating them to believe in Hashem. In light of this explanation, the Mishmeres Ariel suggests that Avraham only sought out prospective converts in Charan, but not in other locations, where the improper character traits of the people ran counter to the essence of the Torah. However, the Midrash teaches that Avraham did, in fact, convert people in other locations.


 

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.