His Tent, Her Tent
הרב דני זוקרמן
"ויעתק משם ההרה מקדם לבית אל ויט אהלה בית אל מים והעי מקדם ויבן שם מזבח לה' ויקרא בשם ה'." (בראשית יב:ח)
While Elon Moreh is the first stop of Avraham’s journey in Eretz Yisrael, it is in the hills between Beit El and Ai that he settles down to commence his life’s mission of “calling out in God’s name.” Avraham establishes a mizbeiach as his base of operations, and it is there that he is "מודיע אותו ואלהותו לבני אדם" (רמב"ן שם)- he brings God-awareness into the public sphere.
Given the significance of Avraham’s mission, it is surprising that, upon choosing a location, he first pitches his tent and only then builds a mizbeiach and calls out in God’s name. Surely, he didn’t value his own needs more than his responsibility to Hashem! Yitzchak Avinu indeed follows the more logical order when arrives in Be’er Sheva.
"ויבן שם מזבח ויקרא בשם ה' ויט שם אהלו ויכרו שם עבדי יצחק באר." (בראשית כו:כה)
Yitzchak builds a mizbeiach, calls out in God’s name and only then pitches his tent. Why does Avraham first pitch his tent and only then build a mizbeiach and call out in God’s name?
The difference in order seems to reflect the fundamental difference in Avraham and Yitzchak’s missions. Yitzchak, the pillar of עבודה, publicizes שם שמים with tefilla and, according to one midrash, a beis midrash as well. For Yitzchak, the home is indeed ancillary to his mission, and he therefore delays its establishment. Avraham, the pillar of חסד, publicizes שם שמים through the חסד he performs.
"ויטע אשל בבאר שבע ויקרא שם בשם ה' אל עולם." (בראשית כא:לג)
"אשל- רב ושמואל: חד אמר פרדס להביא ממנו פירות לאורחים בסעודה, וחד אמר פונדק לאכסניא ובו כל מיני מאכל...על ידי אותו אשל נקרא שמו של הקב"ה אלוה לכל העולם." (רש"י שם)
Avraham Avinu showered people with chesed and through his chesed he opened their eyes to the chesed Hashem does for us at every moment of our lives. For Avraham, then, the tent where he hosts guests was central to his mission and therefore, he pitches it immediately, even before he builds a mizbeiach.
Chazal highlight another noteworthy element in the passuk, deepening our understanding of Avraham’s chesed. The word "אהלה", though pronounced in the masculine form, is written in the feminine form.
"אהלה כתיב, בתחלה נטה את אהל אשתו ואחר כך את שלו." (רש"י יב:ח)
Avraham pitches Sarah’s tent before his own. While this is certainly chivalrous, we can appreciate the depth of Avraham’s prioritizing based on another midrash.
"ואחרי כן קבר אברהם את שרה אשתו...ואברהם זקן בא בימים וה' ברך את אברהם בכל." (בראשית כג:יט, כד:א)
"אמר ר' שמואל בר יצחק, אמר לו הקדוש ברוך הוא, אני אמנותי גומל חסדים, תפסת אמנותי בא לבש לבושי, ואברהם זקן בא בימים." (בראשית רבה נח:ט)
While Avraham’s chesed was the work of a lifetime, Chazal say that it reached its pinnacle in the burial of Sarah. It is only then that he truly adopted the middah of Hashem and was rewarded with the divine quality of "זקנה". To call this Avraham’s signature achievement is surprising; we would expect nothing less of Avraham Avinu than to bury his own wife! Moreover, is it not more impressive to wait out in the hot sun, searching for unknown travelers? Apparently, while feeding and hosting strangers is certainly praiseworthy, it is the chesed one does in his own home which is one’s primary achievement. The capstone of Avraham’s career is the chesed he does for his own wife.
Now we can understand why it is so significant that Avraham pitches Sarah’s tent before his own. As we saw above, the tents come before the mizbeiach because Avraham’s mission was to publicize Hashem through the chesed he performed. While chesed for others was central to that mission, it is chesed for Sarah which stands at its very core.
Avraham chooses a location to settle, takes care of his wife’s needs- the core of his chesed, and then establishes his outward-focused chesed center. Only after he has pitched these twin tents is he ready to build a mizbeiach and commence with his life’s mission to bring God-awareness into this world.
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