In this week’s parsha of Lech Lecha, we read of the dispute between the shepherds of Avraham and the shepherds who worked for his nephew Lot.
The Torah tells us that, due to their prodigious wealth, the land was simply not capable of “carrying” both of them.
The term to carry in Hebrew is “Na’sah”. Rashi explains that, generally, the term “land” in the Torah is referred to in the feminine form - just like, in English, we refer to “Mother Earth”.
In its description, the Torah curiously uses the term ‘na’sah’ in the masculine (zachar) form, rather than “na ‘sah” in the feminine form.
The obvious question - which Rashi does not address - is why, here, does the Torah change the form from feminine to masculine?
In the Torah, the defining characteristic of the masculine is activity, whereas the defining feminine characteristic is passivity. “Eretz”, the Hebrew word for land, is generally a feminine word, following the appropriate feminine grammatical rules. Why?
In a normal sense, land has a very passive role in the world. It receives the seed, and gives birth to its produce.
What occurred with Avraham and Lot was a change in the nature of land and in its now active involvement. In what way did the land act differently?
The land was now actively rejecting the conflicting values of Lot and Avraham settling together, and the use of the masculine terms denotes this unusual occurrence.
How and why did the earth act so uncharacteristically, and what empowered it?
The answer lies in Avraham’s journey in the beginning of the parsha.
We read that Avraham traveled across the land of Israel, settling in such places as Elon Moreh and Shechem. Rashi explains that these travels were not for tourism purposes. Rather, they were a reflection of Avraham’s visions of future events in significant locations, such as the dispute in Shechem over Dina, and the oath of the Torah taken by the Jews at the mountains of Grizim and Eival.
In short Avraham sensed, lived, and brought out the spirituality of the land.
He indeed made it a holy land. As such, it began to proactively respond to the philosophical and spiritual values of Avraham. It became Abraham’s land. When Lot refused to live by the standards that Avraham chose, it was the land that wouldn’t carry them.
Even to this day, the conflict in Israel is not over Yaakov’s land or Yitzchak’s land. Rather, the conflict in Israel is over Avraham’s land.
The Arabs claim they are the rightful beneficiaries of Avraham land. This could be a deeper meaning to Lech Lecha - “Go for you”.
Hashem provides Avraham with a vague directive of the place of destination for Avraham - until he actualizes the holiness, it does not exist.
We, too, possess the ability to unlock the spiritual potential of the Land of Israel, by following in Hashem’s ways and observing his Torah.
May we all merit to see the end of conflict of the Jewish people in our holy land, with the arrival of Moshiach speedily and soon.
By Rabbi Simcha Bunim Berger
Rabbi Berger is originally from Los Angeles, California and he spent fifteen years living in Eretz Yisroel learning under Rav Moshe Shapiro and Rav Asher Arieli. Rabbi Berger is currently the Rabbi of the Village Green shul and a Maggid Shiur at Yeshivas Ohr Reuven. He has spent many years building Torah in the community and guiding his talmidim to become the best that they can be.