Lech Lecha: Run, Lot Run ~ Yehoshua Steinberg

In this week's Parashah, Lech Lecha, we are introduced to Abraham's nephew, Lot. Is there a meaning hinted to in his name, which may provide insight into his choices and actions? Our Sages interpreted many names as hints to their character (see e.g. Tanch. Haazinu 7), and indeed said this about Lot's name as well (Tanch. Vayeshev 6), but in this case the Midrash did not specify what the name alludes to (but see Etz Yosef commentary ad loc. for his suggestions). This article seeks to determine the underlying meaning of the name by comparing it to other words in the Holy Language containg the string לט, the consonant letters of the word. We hope our proposals help to unpack this enwrapped (לוּטָה) mystery and illuminate concepts shrouded in murkiness (עלטה). Full Article:https://biblicalhebrewetymology.com/2019/11/08/lech-lecha-run-lot-run-yehoshua-steinberg/

Posted by Jeremy Steinberg on Thursday, 7 November 2019

Gen. 12:4 – And Abram went, as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him.

The name of Lot is לוט in Hebrew. The author of Avnei Shayish proposes a common theme to three words containing the string לט, namely: מלט, פלט and שלט. All three are related to defense / salvation, as follows:

1. מלט refers to fleeing from danger (vis. Gen. 19:17, Ps. 124:3).[1]

2. פלט means escaping war (e.g. Gen. 14:13, Jer. 44:25, Ps. 17:13).[2]

3. שלט in the Holy Tongue refers to: 1. a shield (e.g. II Sam. 8:7, Song 4:4),[3] and to: 2. national rulers (e.g. Gen. 42:6, Ezra 4:20) – charged first and foremost with defending their nations.[4]

I would humbly suggest adding other words of the לט family, all relating to various aspects of defense / salvation:

קלט 5. עלט 6. חלט 7. לטא 8. לטש 9. לוט. 4.

4. קלט – 1. Refuge, shelter (Num. 35:11),[5] 2. Closure (Lev. 22:23 – a form of protection).[6]

5. עלט – Darkness[7] (Gen. 15:17, Ez. 12:6)[8] – darkness in general is often described as cover / concealment (vis. Ps. 44:20)[9]; so too is עלטה used in this sense (e.g. Abarbanel, Ez. 12:6[10]; see also RSRH, Deut. 17:14). Others suggest a direct connection between עלטה and וילט,[11] both of which denote wrapping / concealing.[12]

6. חלט – RSRH (Gen. 15:17)[13] cites an instance of חלט (I Kings 20:33) in the sense of snatching.[14] Based on this usage, he comments that both חלט in this sense and עלט denote types of concealment from sight. Both darkness and snatching lead to the same outcome – hiding and concealment from sight.

7. לטא – This is the root of לטאה, the lizard referred to in Lev. 11:30.[15] Onkelus renders the word וחלטתא.[16] Perhaps Onkelus chose the root חלט, which in Aramaic refers to snatching, because the lizard is among the quickest of reptiles, disappearing into cracks and crevices in split-seconds, as if “snatched” – hidden from the eye and thereby saved.[17]

8. לטש – In Gen. 4:22 we find Tuval Cain (a descendent of Cain) referred to as a לטש –sharpener.[18] While sharpening is a skill applicable to peaceful purposes like agriculture or art,[19] Rashi emphasizes that Tuval Cain’s talents were directed in the main to implements of war.[20] Moreover, most instances of the root לטש in Scripture relate to war and violence (e.g. Ps. 52:4[21] [so too regarding related words such as שנן – e.g. Ps. 64:4]). We in fact find the foreign rulers of the Land of Israel prohibiting all sharpening of metal implements there for fear that the honing would be applied to tools of war (vis. I Sam. 13:19).[22]

How is this last meaning connected? Until now, we have described defense techniques such as hiding, fleeing and enclosing. However, a most important aspect of defense is deterrence. The very knowledge that one’s neighbor possesses an arsenal of weapons at the ready, ironically, often serves to foster peaceful coexistence. And if all else fails, the best defense is a good offense – with sharpened spears at the ready.

We also note that the equivalence of the letters לטש to [23]שלט (ala כבש-כשב, שמלה-שלמה) may allude to a shared or similar meaning as well. As we’ve seen above, the biblical שלט is in fact a shield, and the שליט-ruler is first and foremost charged with defense of his nation.

9. The root לוט – This root denotes wrapping (e.g. I Sam. 21:10 + Rashi). [24] Derivative meanings are concealment / secrecy (see Ex. 7:22 + Rashi, Sanhed., 67b + Rashi).[25] Additionally, Rashi (Jer. 43:9)[26] comments that the word מלט (mortar, cement) derives from the biliteral root לט; cement seals, envelopes, protects (see also Yeriot Shlomo, 1:104a).

It may be suggested that the above can also explain the origin of the name לוט. At every critical juncture of his life, Lot either fled or hid – from enemies, dangers and trials, as follows: 1. We are introduced to Lot as the orphaned son of the murdered Haran (vis. Rashi, Gen. 11:28), escaping and finding refuge under his uncle Abraham’s wing. 2. He fled from Abraham -whose success he may have viewed as a threat to his own ambitions (more on this below)- and therefore settled in Sodom (Gen. 13:11 ff.). 3. He was then rescued by Abraham, and found safe haven after being held captive (ibid. 14:16). 4. Finally, he escaped from the destruction of Sodom (ibid. 19:20).

Of note is that the root מלט (escape, finding refuge) is found only five times in the Pentateuch (in contradistinction to נ”ך) – all exclusively in connection with Lot (vis. ibid. 19:17 [2x], 19:19, 19:20, 19:22).[27]

Also of note is that the angel warning Lot to flee from Sodom uses the word להמלט three times, not once using synonyms for escape such as לנוס or לברוח. Lot uses the term twice, adding the word לנוס only in verse 20. Why is the word מלט special, and why did Lot conclude with an alternate word?

A hint maybe found in Gen. 19:17, where the angel urges Lot to “flee to the mountain.” Rashi comments that “the mountain” alludes to Abraham, who lived on a mountain.[28] The simple understanding is that Lot was to be saved in the merit of Abraham. Lot refuses, but explains (ibid. v 19): “I cannot flee to the mountain, lest the evil overtake me, and I die.” The commentators explain that Lot was simply afraid that he may not run fast enough to complete the journey in time. However, in the next verse Lot offers his reason for choosing to flee to Tzoar instead: “Behold now, this city is near to flee there, and it is small.” While the statement “near to flee” is fair enough, how is “and it is small” connected?

The commentators again offer explanations, but perhaps one could suggest that Lot feared fleeing to Abraham for the same reason he had left him in the first place. Namely, in the shadow of his towering uncle, Lot was a nobody; compared to Abraham’s righteousness, Lot was a fiend. Ergo: “lest the evil overtake me, and I die” – I’ll have nowhere to run or hide from his greatness and uprightness there. In contrast, in Tzoar -a small, young town- I’ll be considered important and righteous, the “head of the foxes” (see Avot 4:15).[29]

This may explain Lot’s use of the term לנוס for the first time, in reference to Tzoar:

בר’ יט:כ – הָעִיר הַזֹּאת קְרֹבָה לָנוּס שָׁמָּה…

I would suggest that the word לנוס indeed refers to the physical feasibility of fleeing to and arriving at the destination on time, as per commentators cited above. Lot explains that in fact Tzoar is a more viable destination per its proximity. But then, he switches back to the root מלט at the end of the verse:

וְהִוא מִצְעָר אִמָּלְטָה נָּא שָׁמָּה…

That is, Tzoar has the added advantage of being small and young – a place where I can be honored as an elder and revered as a tzaddik … and hide from the true righteousness of Abraham. The addition of אמלטה here suggests: Even if fleeing [לנוס] to “the mountain” is logistically possible, I still prefer to escape that place and hide among those who are smaller than I, so that in comparison with them I will be considered a tzaddik.[30]

Lot’s name therefore expresses with extraordinary accuracy his essence: evasion, avoidance and escape from trials. In contrast with Abraham, who triumphed in all his trials, thereby rising to spiritual greatness, Lot remained eternally mired, self-absorbed, enwrapped and enveloped in darkness.

Ours is to learn from Lot’s tragic failure and to aspire to the greatness of our father Abraham, Prince of the Lord.

  1. הִמָּלֵט עַל נַפְשֶׁךָ (בר’ יט:יז); הַפַּח נִשְׁבָּר וַאֲנַחְנוּ נִמְלָטְנוּ (תה’ קכד:ג).

  2. וַיָּבֹא הַפָּלִיט (בר’ יד:יג) – שנפלט מהמלחמה; פַּלְּטָה נַפְשִׁי מֵרָשָׁע חַרְבֶּךָ (תה’ יז:יג); וּפְלִיטֵי חֶרֶב יְשֻׁבוּן (יר’ מד:כה).

  3. ש”ב ח:ז – וַיִּקַּח דָּוִד אֵת שִׁלְטֵי הַזָּהָב; רד”ק – שלטי הזהב – מגיני הזהב; מצ”צ – שלטי – כעין מגן.

  4. כלומר, בהשאלה מ’שלט’ בהוראת מגן (או נרתיק הנושא נשק – ע’ רש”י בש”ב שם).

  5. במ’ לה:יא – ערי מקלט.

  6. וכן במובן “קלוט”, היינו סגור (סגירה וכיסוי הינם סוגי שמירה): וי’ כב:כג – ושור ושה שרוע וקלוט; רש”י – וקלוט – פרסותיו קלוטות.

  7. ונראה להציע שמשמעות המלה “לייט” בארמית, קללה נובעת מכאן, היינו שֶּׁיֵּשֵׁב המקולל מכוסה בחושך וצלמות. שוב ראיתי שכן כתב בספר “ממעמקים” (בראשית, דף 91 [ר’ אלכסנדר מנדלבוים, ירושלים, תשנ”ז]).

  8. בר’ טו:יז – וַיְהִי הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ בָּאָה וַעֲלָטָה הָיָה; ענינו חושך, שמתואר רבות ככיסוי וסתר.

  9. וכך מתואר גם העלטה, כגון: יחז’ יב:ו – עַל כָּתֵף תִּשָּׂא בָּעֲלָטָה. אברבנאל – צוהו שיעשה… בגדים… ויוליך על כתפו… כאילו הוא בסתר בעלטה.

  10. וַיָּלֶט פָּנָיו (מ”א יט:יג).

  11. ראה ספר בעליל לארץ, דף קטו; אגרא דכלה (בראשית טו:יז), אור חדש (שם שם).

  12. נמצא בפירושו לבר’ טו:ט-כא במהדורת מוסד יצחק ברויאר.

  13. מ”א כ:לג – וְהָאֲנָשִׁים יְנַחֲשׁוּ וַיְמַהֲרוּ וַיַּחְלְטוּ; ת”י: וְגַבְרַיָא נְחִישׁוּ וְאוֹחִיאוּ וְחַטְפוּהָא.

  14. ויק’ יא:ל – וְהָאֲנָקָה וְהַכֹּחַ וְהַלְּטָאָה וְהַחֹמֶט וְהַתִּנְשָׁמֶת.

  15. ת”א – וְיַלָּה וְכֹחָא וְחַלְטְתָא וחֻמְטָא וְאָשׁוּתָה. גירסת ספר “אונקלוס המוגה והמדויק” (ר’ ש. ויזר), ושל “חומש המאור” (בניגוד ל’והלטתא’ במהד’ אחרות.

  16. וכן מסוגלת לטפס בקירות מאונכים חלקלקים ועל התקרה בעצמה. כל אלו התכונות מעניקות לה דרכים רבות להימלט מכל סכנה צפויה. ובכך השמות “לטאה” ו”חלטתא” מתארים בדיוק נפלא את כח ההישרדות שלה: היא נמלטת בחטף.

  17. בר’ ד:כב – תּוּבַל קַיִן לֹטֵשׁ כָּל חֹרֵשׁ נְחֹשֶׁת וּבַרְזֶל.

  18. כדוגמת: ש”א יג:יט – לִלְטוֹשׁ אִישׁ אֶת מַחֲרַשְׁתּוֹ. וע’ רד”ק, הכוה”ק והעמק דבר לבר’ ד:כב שכך פירשו את הפסוק בפשטות, וכך משמע גם מרש”י ד”ה “לוטש כל חרש”.

  19. רש”י – תובל קין – תובל אומנתו של קין. תובל לשון תבלין, תיבל והתקין אומנתו של קין לעשות כלי זיין לרוצחים. וכך פירשו רוב המפרשים (ע’ ריקאנטי [ד:כב], אברבנל [ד:כ-כב], תולדות יצחק [ד:יז]). וכך מסכם הזוה”ק (ג:עו,ב) את חייו של תובל קין: תובל קין אפיק זייני קטולא לעלמא הוציא כלי הריגה לעולם.

    ע”פ המדרש: ב”ר כג:ג – תובל קין… תבל עבירתו של קין [שהרג בלי כלי זיין] אבל זה לוטש כל חורש נחושת וברזל.

  20. תה’ נב:ד – הַוּוֹת תַּחְשֹׁב לְשׁוֹנֶךָ כְּתַעַר מְלֻטָּשׁ.

  21. ש”א יג:יט-כ – וְחָרָשׁ לֹא יִמָּצֵא בְּכֹל אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי אָמְרוּ פְלִשְׁתִּים פֶּן יַעֲשׂוּ הָעִבְרִים חֶרֶב אוֹ חֲנִית. וַיֵּרְדוּ כָל יִשְׂרָאֵל הַפְּלִשְׁתִּים לִלְטוֹשׁ אִישׁ אֶת מַחֲרַשְׁתּוֹ.

  22. ראה גם חומש פרח שושנה (בר’ ד:כ), תרגומנא (וי’ כ, דף תקנב), שהעירו גם הם על קירבה זו בענין אחר.

  23. ש”א כא:י – הִנֵּה הִיא לוּטָה בַשִּׂמְלָה; רש”י – לוטה – כרוכה, וכן: וילט פניו באדרתו (מ”א יט).

  24. שמ’ ז:כב – וַיַּעֲשׂוּ כֵן חַרְטֻמֵּי מִצְרַיִם בְּלָטֵיהֶם; רש”י – בלטיהם – לחש… בלט ובחשאי. סנהד’ סז: – אמר רבי חייא בר אבא בלטיהם אלו מעשה שדים; רש”י – בלטיהם… בסתר.

  25. יר’ מג:ט – וּטְמַנְתָּם בַּמֶּלֶט; רש”י – וטמנתם במלט – מ’ זו יסוד נופל היא בתיבה, כמו: מקום, מעמד, מעשה, ויסודו לט כמו: וַיָּלֶט פָּנָיו (מ”א יט:יג) – לאט אותה בתוך הטיט במלבן.

  26. בר’ יט:יז – הִמָּלֵט עַל נַפְשֶׁךָ אַל תַּבִּיט אַחֲרֶיךָ… הָהָרָה הִמָּלֵט פֶּן תִּסָּפֶה; בר’ יט:יט – לֹא אוּכַל לְהִמָּלֵט הָהָרָה פֶּן תִּדְבָּקַנִי הָרָעָה וָמַתִּי; בר’ יט:כ – הָעִיר הַזֹּאת קְרֹבָה לָנוּס שָׁמָּה וְהִוא מִצְעָר אִמָּלְטָה נָּא שָׁמָּה; בר’ יט:כב – מַהֵר הִמָּלֵט שָׁמָּה.

  27. רש”י בר’ וירא יט:יז – ההרה המלט – אצל אברהם ברח, שהוא יושב בהר, שנא’ לעיל: וַיַּעְתֵּק מִשָּׁם הָהָרָה (בר’ יב:ח).

  28. השוה אבות ד:טו.

  29. יש להעיר שבספר איוב פירש”י “אמלטה” כלשון השמטה: רש”י איוב א:טו – ואמלטה – אין מליטה אלא לשון השמטה. אף כאן י”ל כי לוט משתמט מצדקותו של אאע”ה, ומן אחריותו ללכת בדרכו.

Lech Lecha: Where Are You Coming from and Where Are You Going? ~ Tzvi Abrahams

Parshas לֶךְ לְךָ

Where Are You Coming from and Where Are You Going?

לֵךְ: go

לְךָ: to you

הַלָכָה: the rules of how I lead my life

מֶלֶךְ: king

מַלְאַךְ: angel

מְלָאכָה: work

לֵך: Go

וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל אַבְרָם לֶךְ לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ
And Hashem said to Avram “Go to you, from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”[1]

Avram is charged with a mission to move from his home and go on a journey. We are creatures of habit, and, as such, we don’t like change. We feel safe and comfortable within our surroundings, so we tend to stay with what we know. Avram was the first to make “aliyah,” the pioneer of the Jewish People in many respects; however, for many Jews, to leave home and make aliyah is too daunting to even contemplate. To leave one’s birthplace and be a stranger in a different land, to start all over again, to take on new customs and battle with trying to understand a language that is by no means easy, to sacrifice a well-paid job for who knows what — all seem like impossible tasks. Yet this is what Hashem charged Avram to do.

We have been coined with the phrase “the wandering Jew” because Hashem has made sure that whenever we become too comfortable and too successful, the goyim rise up against us and seize our property by either killing us or expelling us — the reason being that the only place a Jew really belongs is in the Eretz HaKodesh. We are the holy nation, and therefore we belong in the holy land, as it says the Jewish People, the Torah, and the land are one.

Do you know where you’re going? Do you like the things that life is showing you? Where are you going? Do you know?

The Kli Yakar comments on the words לֶךְ לְךָ, saying that Hashem was commanding Avram to go to the source of his creation, Har HaMoriah, the Makom HaMikdash. In other words, Avram was being told to go on a journey of self-exploration to the core of his very being and discover his essence. לֶךְ לְךָ/go to yourself is therefore the plain meaning of the words.

The first mention of הַלִיכָה in the Torah is in the following verse:

וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶת קוֹל ה’ אֱ-לֹהִים מִתְהַלֵּךְ בַּגָּן לְרוּחַ הַיּוֹם
Adam and Chava heard the voice of Hashem moving in the garden through the breeze.[2]

The Ramban explains that this type of movement is a revealing of the Divine Presence in that specific place, which is represented by a breeze, a רוּחַ. הַלִיכָה is therefore a movement, a רוּחַ that is not governed by gravity. It is the breeze that Hashem breathed into us — life, ruach hachaim, a wind that moves oceans and creates waves, moves clouds (Hashem is רוֹכֵב עַרָבוֹת), and can split the sea (e.g., Yam Suf). We are known as a ruach memalelah, a speaking ruach, a קוֹל/voice that is a movement of air though the throat pushing against strings.

The next mention of הַלִיכָה is with regards to Chanoch:

וַיִּתְהַלֵּךְ חֲנוֹךְ אֶת הָאֱ-לֹהִים וְאֵינֶנּוּ כִּי לָקַח אֹתוֹ אֱ-לֹהִים
And Chanoch walked with Hashem, and he was no more, because Hashem took him.[3]

Targum Yonasan translates the wordוַיִּתְהַלֵּךְ as וּפְלַח חַנוּךְ בְּקוּשְׁטָא, where פְּלַח means “to worship,” or “to till,” or “to split.” Here it means that Chanoch worshiped Hashem בְּקוּשְׁטָא/in truth. The commentaries explain that he was taken alive before his time because he had reached his spiritual height and was liable to fall, so Hashem took him before his time.

הִתְהַלֵּךְ לְפָנַי וֶהְיֵה תָמִים
Hashem says to Avram: “Walk before me and be pure.”[4]

There, Targum Onkelos again uses the lashon of פְּלַח/worship before me, which Rashi translates as הִדָבֵק בְּעַבוֹדָתִי/cleave to my service.

So we see that when Hashem is the subject of הִתְהַלֵךְ, it is a revelation of his presence in the form of a breeze, and when man is the subject, it is in the form of Divine worship.

Hashem breathed into us His very essence in the form of our neshamah, which is the ruach of Hashem. Hashem was telling Avram: “Now that you are aware of my existence, go the rest of the way, cleave to me, and worship me.” Worship means to place every fiber of one’s being into the service of his Creator. This was represented by going to the source of creation, Har HaMoriah, and building a mizbei’ach and bringing korbanos.

On a deeper level, Hashem was telling Avram to break himself open (פְּלַח meaning to split), to go on a journey of self-discovery, to take a deep look inside himself, to pierce through the seed of his very being and reveal his Divine essence.

We see this principle in the following pasuk: וַיְכַל לְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ וַיַּעַל אֱ-לֹהִים מֵעַל אַבְרָהָם.[5] When Hashem finished speaking with Avraham, it uses the lashon of Hashem went up from upon Avraham. Rashi says that the righteous are the vehicle of Hashem. By being davek to Hashem, by breaking through to our own unique Divine essence, we cause the Divine Shechinah to come down and rest upon us and we become His chariot, the King’s chariot. That’s why we stand up when a tzaddik passes by, because he is transporting the King.

When we realize who we are — a ruach of Hashem — then the Divine Presence is revealed, and one is then able to worship Hashem with all his kochos/strengths. Rashi said that Hashem was telling Avraham to cleave to Him through Divine service. The best way to stick to something is to be like it. So when we discover who we really are, the ruach of Hashem, only then are we truly able to cleave.

People who unfortunately go through life never stopping to take a look beneath the surface deprive themselves of the true purpose of life. They are cut off from their life source, their Creator. Instead of a life serving their Creator, they serve themselves. If you were to ask them what they want, the most common answer is money. They worship money because money gets what “I” want.

Yet anyone who takes the time to take a deeper look will discover an inner yearning to connect to his source. This is the message of לֶךְ לְךָ.

So where are you going? Do you know…?

לְךָ: To You

And where are we going…? We are going to You. Hashem did not create us alone. We are in this world to have a relationship; there is me and You. And who are You? When we daven to Hashem, we address Him in the second person “You”; when we say brachos, we always begin by saying, “Blessed are You Hashem.” Hashem is playing hide-and-seek and has placed us in the world to find Him. He is the לְךָ of לֶךְ לְךָ, go and find “You,” the real You, the ruach that I breathed inside of you. Hashem is in the center; He is in the center of the world in Yerushalayim, and He is the center of every Jew. The only way to find Him is to get up and go, לֶךְ לְךָ — we will never find Him by standing still! Only when Avram gets to the land does Hashem appear to him.

הַשֶׁמֶשׁ בָּא/the sun has come…
Man’s life is compared to the sun rising in the east and setting in the west, as it says, “Before the sun set on the life of Sarah, the sun rose on the life of Rivka.”[6] With regard to the lashon of “sunset is coming,” we would think that when the sun comes it refers to the sunrise, but in respect to a person’s life he is always going, and continuing to go, and when he gets closer to his destination, he is then said to be coming, like when the king returns from a long journey and everyone is so excited that they shout: “The king is coming!”

מֶלֶךְ: King

הִנֵּה הַמֶּלֶךְ מִתְהַלֵּךְ לִפְנֵיכֶם
Behold the king goes before you.[7]

The king is the one who מוֹלֵךְ/leads the people. Lot, on the other hand, chose to place himself in a war zone, a place of many kings fighting each other, showing us that in a place where there are many leaders there in no peace, because everyone is being led by someone different. In order for there to be peace, there can be only one king, and this is represented by וּמַלְכִּי צֶדֶק מֶלֶךְ שָׁלֵם.[8]

מַלְאַךְ: Angel

מָרְדְכַי הוּא מַלַאכִי שֶׁהָיָה מִשְׁנֶה לְמֶלֶךְ
Mordechai is Malachi, because he was second to the king.[9]

The מַלְאַךְ is the messenger of theמֶלֶךְ /king. He is empowered with an aleph by the מֶלֶךְ/King to be a מַלְאַךְ in that he is second to the King who is represented by the aleph.

Indeed we see this connection between מַלְאַךְ and מֶלֶךְ in the Friday night zemer of Shalom Aleichem:
[heq] שָׁלוֹם עֲלֵיכֶם מַלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת, מַלְאֲכֵי עֶלְיוֹן, מִמֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא[//heq]
[enq]Peace be upon you ministering angels, angels from on high, from the King, the King of kings, HaKadosh Baruch Hu.[//enq]

עֹשֶׂה מַלְאָכָיו רוּחוֹת
Who makes His messengers winds.[10]

Hashem powers the world through His agents the מַלְאָכִים, His intermediaries, which are flows of energy that are channelled through the stars, known as the mazalos. זִיל is the Aramaic word for “go,” so too מַזַל means “to go,” “to flow.” The mazal of a man is his angel.[11] An animal does not have a mazal whereas man does, because man also creates an energy flow that flows back in the opposite direction towards its source, Hashem. In having a mazal, man has the power to affect the way the world moves, as we see with Moshe and Yehoshua who were able to stop the sun and stars from moving.

וַיּוֹצֵא אֹתוֹ הַחוּצָה
And He took him outside.[12]

Hashem took Avram above the stars and out of the sphere of influence, informing him that he and his offspring the Jewish Nation are not governed by mazal, rather we can create our own mazal. We are beyond the movement of the world, and we can indeed move the world. Avram is no longer called Avram but Avraham. Hashem gave him an extra letter, ה, and from here we learn that by changing our name we can affect a change in our mazal. Whereas Avram was not able to have children, Avraham was, to such an extent that he was known as אָב הַמוֹן גוֹיִם/a father of many nations. Hashem also blesses him with כָּל/everything, which has the gematria of fifty, symbolizing perfection.

Hashem is אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ; he is both אָב וְמֶלֶךְ/Father and King. When we finally get to where we are going, עוֹלָם הַבָּא/the Next World — which is sometimes referred to as עוֹלָם הַפוּךְ/a world that is opposite or upside-down — there we will see the true reality the right way up. When we arrive, בָּא will reverse to become אָב, and כָּל will become לְךָ. Meaning, that if we בָּא/come with כָּל/everything, i.e., our perfected selves, then we will be זוֹכֶה /merit to get to לְךָ/You, our אָב /Father, אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ/our Father and our King, because we are מוֹלֵך לְמֶלֶךְ/going to the King.

כִּי הֹלֵךְ הָאָדָם אֶל בֵּית עוֹלָמו
For a man goes to his grave.[13]

Man is called הוֹלֵךְ/going, whereas the angels are called עוֹמְדִים/standing.[14] All the time man is in the world he is looking, he is searching, he is running to satisfy his deepest desire to connect to Hashem, whereas the angels, who live in the עוֹלָם הַאֶמֶת/World of Truth, are not looking. They see everything with crystal clarity, hence they are considered standing.

מְלָאכָה: Work

וַיְכַל אֱ-לֹהִים בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וַיִּשְׁבֹּת בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מִכָּל מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה
And G-d completed on the seventh day His work which He did, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He did.[15]

In מַעַשֶׁה בְּרַאשִׁית/creating the world Hashem did מְלָאכָה/work. Here מְלָאכָה is defined as a creative action instigated by Hashem the Creator, the מֶלֶךְ/King whose thoughts and directives are carried out by His מְלָאכִים. Here מְלָאכָה is no ordinary work but the Divine handiwork of Hashem, and through His creation we can see the Creator.[16] Indeed it was Avraham who looked intently into the בְּרִיאָה/creation and saw the בּוֹרֵא עוֹלָם/Creator of the universe. Avraham was able to see past the stargazers, realizing that the הַלִיכָה/movement of the sun, moon, and stars was not just stam/happenstance, but rather that there must be a מַנְהִיג/driver who is moving everything.

Why was Avraham zocheh to הַכָּרֵת הַבּוֹרֵא/recognize the Creator while others in his generation were not? The answer lies in the following pasuk:

וְלֹא תִקַּח שֹׁחַד כִּי הַשֹּׁחַד יְעַוֵּר עֵינֵי חֲכָמִים וִיסַלֵּף דִּבְרֵי צַדִּיקִם
Do not take a bribe, because a bribe will blind the eyes of the wise and pervert the words of the tzaddikim.[17]

A bribe blinds our עַיִן הַשִׂכְלִי/mind’s eye from seeing the truth. Having אֶמוּנָה in a בּוֹרֵא עוֹלָם/Creator of the universe obligates us to a life of rules and regulations that are diametrically in opposition to those who wish to lead a life pursuing the pleasures of this world, for the eye of their seichel has been blinded to such a degree that they are impelled to deny there even being a מַנְהִיג/overseer in order that they can be free to do whatever they want.[18]

הַלָכָה: The Rules of How I Lead My Life

תָּנָא דְּבֵי אֵלִיָּהוּ כָּל הַשּׁוֹנֶה הֲלָכוֹת בְּכָל יוֹם מֻבְטָח לוֹ שֶׁהוּא בֶּן הָעוֹלָם הַבָּא שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר הֲלִיכוֹת עוֹלָם לוֹ אַל תִּקְרֵי הֲלִיכוֹת אֶלָּא הֲלָכוֹת
Everyone who learns halachos every day is guaranteed that he is a ben Olam HaBa, as it says: “The ways of the world are His” — do not read “ways” but “halachos.”[19]

The Gemara says that since the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, HaKadosh Baruch Hu can only be found in the ד’ אַמוֹת שֶׁל הַלָכָה/four amos of halachah.[20]

The Maharal explains that Torah is called הַלָכָה in that Torah brings a person to Olam HaBa. Just like the words of the Torah are אֶמֶת/true in that they do not veer right or left from the truth, rather they are straight, so too Torah is called הַלָכָה because the one who goes with them goes in the straight path, neither right nor left, and this is the way that leads man to Olam HaBa.

And this is hinted to in the Gemara where it says הִגִיעַ לְפַּרְשַׁת דְרָכִים נִיצוּל מִכּוּלָם/when you reach the crossroads you will be saved from everything,[21] meaning that when you learn according to הַלָכָה, which is called פָּרָשַׁת דְרָכִים/the crossroads, the way will be easily distinguishable from all other ways that go right and left, and this is the right way that is fitting to go.

וַיִּמְצָאָהּ מַלְאַךְ ה’ עַל עֵין הַמַּיִם בַּמִּדְבָּר עַל הָעַיִן בְּדֶרֶךְ שׁוּר
And the angel of Hashem found her (Hagar) by the spring of water in the desert on the main road to Shor.[22]

The angel then proceeds to ask Hagar: “אֵי מִזֶּה בָאת וְאָנָה תֵלֵכִי — Where are you coming from and where are you going?”[23] The angel was saying to Hagar: “Take a good look and see where you are coming from, the holy house of Avraham, and see where you are headed to, to chutz la’aretz, a place of impurity and wicked people.”[24]

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos says: דַּע מֵאַיִן בָּאתָ, וּלְאָן אַתָּה הוֹלֵךְ וְלִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עָתִיד לִתֵּן דִּין וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן/know where you came from and where you are going and before Whom you will in the future give a judgment and accounting, namely the King of Kings.[25] This will keep us on track and focused on our goal. עַל הָעַיִן, the main road, the road that we see with our eye, and that we need to see continually in our mind’s eye to check that we are going in the right direction.

The Seforno translates the words עַל הָעַיִן to mean עַל אֵם הַדֶרֶךְ/the main road. Instead of small windy paths, the main road is straight, giving one’s eye a clear perspective of where he is going, hence the term עַל הָעַיִן.

The expression אֵם הַדֶרֶךְ, literally “the mother way,”[26] is explained by the Radak to come from the fact that all the roads turn into her, where she is to them like a mother, and they are to her like children.

שְׁמַע בְּנִי מוּסַר אָבִיךָ וְאַל תִּטֹּשׁ תּוֹרַת אִמֶּךָ
Hear my son the mussar of your father, and do not forsake the Torah of your mother.[27]

From the above pasuk we can explain אֵם הַדֶרֶךְ in a different way, to mean the Torah of your mother. Shlomo HaMelech is warning us not to forsake the teachings of our mothers who have instructed us to go in the straight path of the Torah.

It is particularly the Oral Torah that keeps us on the straight path. With its rich tapestry of Mishnah and Gemara, the Oral Torah challenges us to decipher the correct way to go. It is the explanation of the Written Torah that was given to Moshe at Har Sinai, containing the general principles with its finer details of how we are meant to conduct ourselves in every aspect of life. How we navigate our way through life with the guidance of the Torah is called פְסַק הַלָכָה/the decisive way. As the Maharal said above, when we learn according to הַלָכָה, which is calledפָּרָשַׁת דְרָכִים/the crossroads, the way will be easily distinguishable. הַלָכָה is therefore the אֵם הַדֶרֶךְ and is hinted to in that the Oral Torah begins with the letters מ and א from the word מֵאֵימָתַי.

This is the way we should lead our lives, because only through הַלָכָה are we able to discern which way to go. When we are faced with crossroads or any fork in the road, הַלָכָה will dictate the right road to go on. And this will give us clarity of vision to know the answer to the question: where are you coming from and where are you going?

  1. Ibid., 12:1.

  2. Ibid., 3:8.

  3. Ibid., 5:22,24.

  4. Ibid., 17:1.

  5. Ibid., v. 22.

  6. Bereishis Rabbah 58:2.

  7. Shmuel I 12:2.

  8. Bereishis 14:18.

  9. Megillah 15a.

  10. Tehillim 104:4.

  11. Rashi; Shabbos 53b.

  12. Bereishis 15:5.

  13. Koheles 12:5.

  14. Shemos Rabbah 25:2.

  15. Bereishis 2:2.

  16. See Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch to Bereishis ibid.

  17. Devarim 16:19.

  18. Rabbi Yerachmiel Kram, year 3:100.

  19. Megillah 28b.

  20. Brachos 8a.

  21. Sotah 21a.

  22. Bereishis 16:7.

  23. Ibid., v. 8.

  24. Seforno to Bereishis ibid.

  25. Avos 3:1.

  26. See Yechezkel 21:26.

  27. Mishlei 1:8.

Lech Lecha: Energizing the Tired and Exhausted ~ Reuven Chaim Klein

In one of Isaiah’s prophecies (that happens to be read as the Haftarah for Parshat Lech Lecha), he describes G-d as, “The Giver of strength to the tired (yaef), and to those without energy, an abundance of might” (Isa. 40:29). The first part of this verse is paraphrased in a blessing recited every morning, “baruch… ha’noten la’yaef koach”. It is also commonly appended to the end of different works of Torah literature as the author’s way of expressing that his ability to endure weariness while authoring his work is from Above. However, there are another two words in the Bible which mean “tired”: ayef and yagea. In fact, the Modern Hebrew word for “tired” is not yaef, but ayef (which actually appears in the Bible a few more times than yaef does). So what, if anything, is the difference between the words yaef and ayef and how do they differ from yagea?

Some explain that yaef and ayef are actually synonymous and are indicative of a linguistic phenomenon known as metathesis (that is, the transposition of sounds or letters in a word). Thus, ayef and yaef are really the same word, but the first two letters switch positions (i.e. ayef is spelled AYIN-YUD-FEH and yaef is spelled YUD-AYIN-FEH). Indeed, Rabbi Yishaya of Trani (1180-1250), an important Italian Talmudist known as the Rid, compares the case of ayef/yaef to another well-known case of metathetical synonyms: kesev/keves which both mean “lamb” in the Bible.

Rabbi Shimon Schwab (1908-1995), on the other hand, takes a different approach. When discussing the morning blessing that refers to G-d giving strength to the tired, Rabbi Schwab focuses on the word choice of using yaef for that blessing instead of ayef. On the surface, the phraseology of the blessing simply mimics Isaiah’s above-mentioned vision, however Rabbi Schwab understands that there is more to this. He explains that while ayef and yaef both mean “tired,” they denote two different degrees of tiredness: ayef denotes somebody who is tired but still retains some energy, while yaef is somebody who is so tired that he has exhausted all his energy. For this reason, when praising G-d as the Giver of energy to the tired, we use the word yaef for maximum effect. In other words, not only does G-d strengthen those who are tired, He also energizes those who are completely exhausted.

Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Wertheimer (1866-1935) explains that the word ayef denotes extreme fatigue to the point of fainting. Because of this, a borrowed meaning of the word ayef is “thirsty” (e.g., see Job 22:7 and Ps. 63:2) — as Radak notes in Sefer ha’Shorashim — because dehydration is generally what causes tired people to faint.

Rabbi Yosef of Saragossa (d. 1420), a student of Rabbi Nissim of Gerona (1320-1380), explains the difference between ayef/yaef and yagea. He understands that both mean “tired” in the same way, but connote tiredness resulting from different causes. Ayef refers to one who is tired after having repeatedly performed certain movements. In this case it is the persistence of action which makes one tired. The word yagea, in contrast, refers specifically to tiredness resulting from the speed of one’s actions. In other words, one described as ayef is tired and worn out from continuous activity, while one who is yagea has depleted his energies by performing his deeds too fast and overexerting himself.

Malbim also understands that ayef and yagea refer to tiredness resulting from different causes. The word ayef refers to the regular state of tiredness which one with natural low-energy levels experiences, while the word yagea refers to tiredness which is the result of (over)exerting oneself. In fact, the very word yagea (which only appears in the Bible three times, in Deut. 25:18, II Sam. 17:2, and Ecc. 1:8)is related to the root of the verb yaga (“he toiled”).

So if you are wary of weariness and want to avoid fatigue, remember that all energy comes from G-d. As one popular figure was wont to say, “Say your prayers, eat your Wheaties, take your vitamins, and you will never go wrong”.