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“And he pitched his tent, with Beth-el on the west and Ai on the east.” (12:8)

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Horav Aharon Kotler, z.l., would often cite Horav Yehudah Leib Fine, z.l., the rav of Slonim, who commented on the way the Torah depicts Avraham Avinu’s travels. The Torah records that Avraham pitched his tent with Beth-el on one side and Ai on the other. These were both large cities. Indeed, Ai even had a sovereign during the period in which Yehoshua conquered it. Avraham’s tent, on the other hand, was of a temporary nature, pitched on the crossroads. One would expect the geographical locus of the tent to be secondary to the major cities, i.e., the tent is located near the cities of Beth-el and Ai. Instead, the Torah writes that the cities were situated on the west and east of the tent, lending greater significance to the tent than to the cities!

This teaches us, posits Horav Fine, that the mekomos ha’Torah, places from where Torah is disseminated, constitute the central point, the “heart” of the community, while everything else around them is secondary. Avraham’s tent was the makom Torah; the other cities were only markers that indicated where Avraham’s tent, the “ohel shel Torah,” was located.

The Chafetz Chaim observed how secular maps use symbols, ranging from microscopic dots to stars, in order to identify various cities. Whereas the secular world assesses the prominence of a city commensurate with its population and political import, the Torah map is founded on a different scale. The Torah-learning and mitzvah observance of a given area determines the distinction and significance attributed to it. Hence, a town that might be represented by a miniscule dot on a secular map, may quite possibly be a large, bold blip on the Torah map. The Torah’s guidelines are quite different.

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