וילך למסעיו מנגב ועד בית אל עד המקום אשר היה שם אהלה בתחלה בין בית אל ובין העי
And he proceeded on his journeys from the south as far as Beis-el, to the place where his tent had been formerly, between Beis-el and Ai.
Upon Avrom’s return from Mitzrayim, Avram made it a point of returning to the same places that he stayed at on his way down to Mitzrayim. Rashi comments: וילך למסעיו. כשחזר ממצרים לארץ כנען היה הולך ולן באכסניות שלן בהם בהליכתו למצרים, למדך דרך ארץ, שלא ישנה אדם מאכסניא שלו. דבר אחר בחזרתו פרע הקפותיו- When he returned from Mitzrayim to the land of Canaan he went and lodged in the same inns as he had stayed when he travelled to Mitzrayim. This teaches you good manners: that one should not change his inn (Arachin 16b); Another interpretation: on his return he paid the debts he had previously incurred.
It seems that on the way down, Avram was a poor man and either borrowed money from people or he lodged on credit, so now was his opportunity to pay off his debts.
The obvious question is: why is this even noteworthy? What is Avrom’s entire world of chessed even worth if he owes money all around town and does not pay up? Doesn’t everyone pay up, and certainly Avram himself?
The Chasam Sofer explains that on his way down, the people scorned him: “You keep saying, HaShem will help, HaShem runs the world, HaShem looks after me, and yet you don’t have a penny to your name and HaShem is now burdening you to go down to Mitzrayim.” Avram had no response. So now upon his return, laden with wealth, he felt he had a debt to pay. He had an obligation to show all of these people how HaShem made him wealthy, and that He was there all along.
The Chasam Sofer offers another reason why he returned to the same places. The Ramban’s well-known opinion is that it was a great sin for Avram to go down to Mitzrayim (12:10). Each stop along the way down was a chilul HaShem. His return to Eretz Yisroel was an act of teshuva, so Avram made sure to return to each stop in order to complete his teshuva. Subsequently, this act of teshuva caused Avram to reach an even higher level of greatness, as Chazal teach: במקום שבעלי תשובה עומדים אין צדיקים גמורים יכולים לעמוד.
Along the lines of the Chasam Sofer, I would like to suggest another answer: אמר רבא בשעה שמכניסין אדם לדין אומרים לו נשאת ונתת באמונה קבעת עתים לתורה: Rava said: After departing from this world, when a person is brought to judgment (for the life he lived in this world), they say to him: Did you conduct business faithfully? Did you designate times for Torah study? (Shabbos 31a)
After 120 years, we will all experience the grand bechina. One of the questions asked is קבעת עתים לתורה, did you designate times for Torah study. For many of us, this question will be easily checked off because we have our daily chavrusas and shiurim. Furthermore, עתים is plural and we will even be able to pat ourselves on the back and say we’ve learned in the morning and at night.
However, I heard from R’ Shlomo Eisenberger shlita (Telz Yeshiva) that perhaps the expectation behind the question is a little bit more than that.
Shlomo Hamelech writes in Koheles: לכל זמן ועת לכל־חפץ תחת השמים. There are twenty-eight עתים which cover all different occasions in a person’s life cycle that are mentioned in the possuk. Now let us ask the question again: קבעת עתים לתורה? Did you make sure to learn during those times as well? That day when your first child was born ((עת ללדת? The night you danced at your oldest child’s wedding (עת לרקוד)? During a doctor’s visit (עת לרפוא)? Of course you learnt twice daily when things were status-quo and good to go, but what about during those other עתים when you indeed had a good and valid excuse, did you keep your kevius as well?
Avram Avinu approached his Torah learning as an absolute חוב. Perhaps along his travels, when his schedule was not the ordinary, he may have been preoccupied and missed some time. He may have even had an exemption of osek bimitzvah, but he still kept a cheshbon of the missed time. So now upon his return, he went back to those places in order to pay back his “chovos”.
Good Shabbos, מרדכי אפפעל