ויסע אברם הלוך ונוסע הנגבה.
“And Avram traveled; he went and traveled to the South.” (Bereishis 12:9)
Rashi explains this verse as follows: “Sometimes he settled in one place for a month or more and then left from there and set up his tent at a new location; and all of his travels were to reach the south of Eretz Yisroel, towards the direction of Jerusalem (i.e. Jerusalem is at the center of the world and at the edge of Eretz Yisroel as is explained in Yeshaya), which is in the territory of Yehudah who inherited the south of Eretz Yisroel, and the Har Hamoriah was in his territory.”
Rashi’s explanation still doesn’t tell us why the verse uses two different words to describe Avram’s travels – he went and traveled, or why the verse mentions twice that he traveled.
There is another difficulty with Rashi’s words. If Avram’s goal was to reach Jerusalem, then why did he stop at certain places for a month or more? This prevented him from arriving at his destination as quickly as possible. If someone really wants to get somewhere, he wouldn’t make any stopovers for extended periods of time.
We can explain this with the following insight of the Baal Shem Tov: In Parshas Chaya Sara the Torah relates how Eliezer arrived at the home of Besuel seeking his daughter Rivkah as a wife for Yitzchak. The verse says: “And I arrived today at the well.” Rashi explains these words by saying: “Today I left and today I arrived; from here we see that he had kefutzas haderech (his journey was miraculously shortened).” Why does Rashi interject with the words “from here”, instead of simply saying that he arrived the same day as he left due to having kefutzas haderech? This is because the first letters of the Hebrew words that mean “and I arrived today at the well” spell the Divine Nameאהו"ה which is used by tzaddikim to enable them to have kefutzas haderech. Therefore we do literally see “from here” – from these very words in the verse – that his journey was miraculously shortened.
What is the meaning of the Name אהו"ה? It means that Hashem created the heavens and the earth. Someone who reaches a complete understanding and acceptance that Hashem created everything can shorten great distances, because it is all the same to him.
With this idea, we can understand the deeper meaning of the verse. The first letters of the words “Avram went and traveled to the south” spell the Divine Name אהו"ה, which can be used to bring about kefutzas haderech. Avram traveled with kefutzas haderech, which made his long journey miraculously shorter. Therefore, even though he sometimes had to stop for a month or more, he did not arrive any later at his destination.
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There is another deeper message in this verse. What is the difference between “going” and “traveling?” The word holech – went, can mean that he went in no particular direction. A person can even go around in circles without getting anywhere. By contrast, when someone travels he has a destination in mind. The world nosa – travel, indicates a purpose.
A person cannot remain spiritually static; either we go higher, or we fall to a lower spiritual level. The Gemara tells us that the southern direction symbolizes wisdom, as it says (Bava Basra 25b) “Someone who wishes to become wise should turn in a southern direction [while praying].” Since turning towards the south indicates a desire for wisdom, we see from the verse that Avram’s goal was to acquire more wisdom.
When a person wishes to acquire Torah wisdom, he dedicates many hours to Torah study. Although this is indeed the only way to become wise, one must not forget the importance of avodah – serving Hashem with prayer and introspection. Torah must be combined with avodah in order for the person to reach true greatness.
In fact, the Satmar Rebbe zt”l has a very illuminating interpretation on the Gemara where it says that “The early Chassidim would prepare themselves for an hour before prayer.” He explains that although they spent lots of time preparing for prayer, they merited siyatta dishmaya (Divine assistance) with their learning and acquired a deeper understanding of Torah and Halacha than those who spent more time learning Torah, but without proper prayer. It took these Chassidim less time to master more Torah concepts than others, and they were able to more clearly define halachos.
There is an anecdote about the Chasam Sofer zt”l. When he studied under Rabbi Nosson Adler zt”l his prayers were quite lengthy and took a lot of time. One of his friends chided him: “Moshe, while you stood and prayed I learned several pages of Gemara!” R’ Moshe replied: “I am not concerned. The Gemara says (Berachos 54b) that someone who lengthens his prayers will have his days and years lengthened. I will catch up with my learning during the extra days and years that I will receive due to my extended prayers…”
“Avram went and traveled,” he traveled with a destination in mind - to acquire wisdom. Although he had an important goal in mind, Rashi tells us that he nevertheless settled for a month or more and then traveled further from there. This means that Avram was able to stop and pray intensely and at length, even though his ultimate goal was Torah wisdom. He did not consider it a disruption of his travels towards wisdom when he took time off to pray and serve Hashem. Because of this he was indeed able to utilize the Divine Name of kefutzas haderech; in other words, there was a blessing in his learning and he did not lose out due to these stopovers.
Sometimes the yetzer hara tries to convince a person to dedicate himself only to Torah and neglect his davening. We must remember that when we take the time to daven properly we never lose out; we will not accomplish less in our learning because of it. In fact, it helps the person succeed in his learning and he will ultimately benefit.
Likewise, when Jews gather on Friday night to serve Hashem with songs of devotion, some may think that they are wasting time that could have been spent learning Torah. But in truth, the time spent to fortify oneself spiritually will only help the person learn Torah better. In the zemer of Koh Echsof it says: “Sanctify [the Jewish people] with the holiness of Shabbos which unites with Your Torah.” The time spent to absorb the holiness of Shabbos does not detract from Torah learning – it only unites us with the Torah and helps us learn even better!