Kefitzat Haderech: What's the Message of This Rare Form of Divine Intervention?

In parshat Vayetzei, we see an instance of kefitzat haderech, i.e., a miracle pursuant to which an individual is transported from one location to a geographically distant one with unnatural speed. Specifically, the first pasuk of the parsha (28:10) states: "Vayeitzei Yaakov miBe`eir Shava' vayeilekh Charana." On which the gemara in Chullin (91b) comments:

The Torah states, "And Yaakov left from Beer Sheva and went to Charan." And it states [next pasuk] "Vayifga BaMakom." When he [Yaakov] arrived in Charan he said [to himself], "Is it possible that I passed by the spot where my fathers have prayed and I did not pray?" When he gave his thought to return, the land contracted for him. Immediately, Vayifga BaMakom, he hit up against the place.

For a discussion of whether the kefitzat haderech occurred from Be'er Sheva to Charan, or from Charan to Beit El (where Yaakov slept) (as per the gemara in Chullin), see the parshablog.

The kefitzat haderech for Yaakov is one of four such miraculous kefitzot recorded in Tanach. A second occurred for Avraham when he was chasing the four kings who kidnapped Lot (see Rashi on 14:15).

Another occurred for Eliezer when he departed to Charan to find a wife for Yitzchak (see Rashi on 24:42).

Finally, we have an instance of kefitzat haderech in the time of Melech David when his generals waged war against the nation of Aram (see Midrash Tanchuma, Vayeitzei 3, which contends that the phrase in Tehillim 60:3 - "hirashta eretz patzamta - You made the land quake, you broke it" - refers to the divine assistance that Hashem rendered to David's generals when he caused an earthquake that shattered the land into pieces; these pieces were then brought closer together, thus substantially shortening the distance the generals had to travel to reach Aram).

What is the common denominator between these 4 instances of kefitzat haderech - and what is the message for us?

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The Lesson of Avraham and Sarah's Marriage: How Sharing and Pursuing Mutual Goals Builds Love

In parshat Chayei Sarah, Avraham approaches Efron to purchase a plot to bury his wife, Sarah. Avraham states: "Ach im ata lu shemayni, natati kesef hasadeh kach mimeni... - If you will but listen to me, I am giving you coins for the field, take them from me..." (23:13) - on which the gemara (Kiddushin 2a) comments: from here we learn that the word "kicha" refers to an acquisition using money as consideration ("ein kicha ela b'kesef").

Famously, this exegesis has practical significance in the realm of contracting marriages. Commenting on the pasuk "ki yikach ish isha" in parshat Ki Tetzei (24:1), the gemara (Kiddushin 4b) refers back to the aforementioned pasuk from Chayei Sarah (teaching that "ein kicha ela b'kesef"), and concludes that a marriage may be consummated using money (or an object of monetary value) ("isha nikneit b'kesef").

Unfortunately, the use of the term "acquisition" to describe the contracting of a marriage has been the source of much misunderstanding among those unfamiliar with the Torah's view of marriage. As we will see, the use of the phrase "kicha" to describe the consummation of a marriage alludes to the potential within marriage for the deepest levels of love and friendship.

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The Purpose and Psychology Behind Mitzvah Performance

A key symbol of the recently celebrated chag of Sukkos is the arba minim - lulav, hadasim, aravos and esrog. It is well known that, when purchasing arba minim, observant Jews carefully examine the details of the samples offered for sale in the hope of purchasing as beautiful a specimen as possible - i.e., a "mehudar" for each of the minim. In other words, we don't just want "kosher" arba minim; we want the best.

The source of purchasing "mehudar" arba minim is the pasuk "zeh keli v'anveyhu - This is my G-d and I will beautify him." (Shemot, BeShalach 15:2). As the gemara in Shabbos (133b) explains, how does one beautify Hashem? The first opininon (Tanna Kamma) states that one beautifies Hashem through the embellished performance of mitzvot - i.e., making a beautiful sukkah, purchasing beautiful arba minim, a beautiful shofar, etc. That is, instead of being content with performing mitzvos within the letter of the law, we seek to optimize our performance through "hidur mitzvah" - that is, by acquiring the most beautiful specimen we can find (as an aside, in the sefer Iyun B'Lomdus by Rav Yitzchak Adler, pages 20-23, there appear some interesting analyses revolving around the chakira of whether "hidur mitzvah" is deemed part and parcel of the core mitzva, or constitutes its own independent mitzvah separate and apart from the core mitzvah being beautified; various nafka minot are discussed).

What's interesting is that a second opinion is brought down in the gemara concerning the meaning of the pasuk, "Zeh keli v'anveyhu." Abba Shaul states that "V'anveyhu" teaches us to emulate Hashem: "Ma hu rachum v'chanun, af ata rachum v'chanun - Just as Hashem is merciful and compassionate, so too, you [i.e., man] should be merciful and compassionate." (Shabbos 133b). This is how we "beautify" Hashem - by emulating His attributes.

So we have two opinions: the Tanna Kamma say that "zeh keli v'anveyhu" teaches hiddur mitzvah, and Abba Shaul opines that "zeh keli v'anveyhu" teaches emulation of Hashem's attributes of mercy and compassion (i.e., moral excellence).

I wonder - are these two tanaim arguing? Are their opinions mutually exclusive? IMHO, the answer is "No," and instead, based on the teachings of Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, what we may actually have here is a progression; namely, that the stellar performance of mitzvos b'hiddur leads one to moral excellence (i.e., emulation of Hashem's attributes of mercy and compassion). If so, how does that work?

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Serving Hashem Without Expectation of Reward

The third mishnah in the first perek of pirkei avos discusses the optimal attitude one must assume to achieve true yiras Hashem (fear of G-d):

Al tiheyu k'avadim ha'meshamshim es harav al menas l'kabel pras; elah heyu kavadim ha'meshahshim es harav shelo al menas l'kabel, v'ihi morah shamayim aleichem

Be not like servants who serve the master on condition of receiving reward. Rather, be as servants who serve the master without the condition of receiving reward, and fear of Heaven will be upon you.

What seems unclear is why being motivated by reward (and deterred by punishment) should detract from one's yiras Hashem. If one tries to do the right thing (and avoid the wrong things), motivated by a desire to obtain reward (and avoid punishment), why should that person's yiras hashem be less? Indeed, isn't fear of punishment synonymous with yiras Hashem? I try to avoid sin in order to avoid Hashem's wrath, and pursue good in order to obtain Hashem's blessing. What is wrong with that?

Yet, in the fourth chapter of Mesilas Yesharim, we see that reward and punishment is considered the lowest form of motivation for choosing good and avoiding evil (which R' Luzzato refers to as "vigilance" or zehirus). The highest motivation for exercising vigilance in one's actions is the realization that perfection of character is an ideal in and of itself, irrespective of reward.

Insights provided by Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky of Jersualem in a recently taped Tisha B'Av shiur can help shed some light on these issues. Briefly, R' Orlofsky described 3 types of relationships with Hashem by analogy to relationships with other people with which we are all familiar in our daily lives. Since we understand the dynamics of these human relationships so well, the analogy can help us model a relationship with Hashem of the kind described in the mishnah. That is, because we understand which relationships in life give us the most satisfaction and pleasure, we can begin to understand why a relationship with Hashem that is not based on reward will be the most spiritually uplifting.

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