Wednesday, December 06, 2017

v'kisinu es damo -- the cover-up

1. Rashi in last weeks parsha comments on the words "vayichbkeyhu... vayishakeyhu" (33:4) that even though it was out of character for Eisav to express love for Ya'akov, in this case the hugs and kisses were sincere as he was truly moved.  Yet two weeks ago in Parshas VaYeitzei the Torah uses nearly the identical phrase of "va'yichabek lo va'yinashek lo..." (29:3) in describing Lavan's greeting of Ya'akov and there Rashi writes that Lavan was insincere and was trying to pat down Ya'akov to find out if he had any jewels on him.  Why in one case does Rashi interpret the hugs and kisses as sincere expressions of love and in the other case as a selfishly motivated act?

HaKsav vHaKabbalah explains that in describing what Lavan did, the Torah separates the verb from it's object: "va'yinasek" = verb, "lo" = object.  There was a disconnect between what Lavan was doing and what he felt about Ya'akov.  In describing Eisav's actions, the Torah lumps subject, verb, and object into one word: "vayichakeyhu."  The person taking action -- Eisav -- was 100% invested into the action of giving those hugs and kisses.  There was no disconnect between them and his true self, his true emotions.

R' Yisrael Resiman brilliantly connects this to our parsha.  "V'lo yachlu dabro l'shalom..."  Of course, had the brothers wants to, they could have spoken nicely to Yosef and about Yosef.  But they wouldn't have meant it.   It would just be words.  They couldn't speak in the manner of "dabro," subject+verb+object in one, where your true self is invested 100%in what you say and every word reflects your true feelings.   

2. Speaking of the Ksav vHaKabbalah, here's another nice one: Yehudah says, "Mah betzah ki na'harog es achinu v'kisinu es damo."  (37:26)  Why should we kill Yosef and have to cover up his blood?  It's an incomprehensible statement.  Is this the way the shivtei K-h speak?  This is like a line from a Mafia movie.  Yehudah is only worried about having to do a cover-up once the crime is committed -- aside from that, no problem?

HaKsav vHaKabbalah explains that the word kisinu here does not mean cover-up.  It is like the word ksus, a garment.  Yehudah was giving mussar to his brothers!  If Yosef is killed, he told them, then we will wear the guilt of that deed like a badge of shame for all of our lives. 

The kabbalists speak of the body being a levush for the neshoma.  A person can take his holy neshoma and dress it in a body that does all kind of crimes and misdeeds.  When Yaakov stole his father's brachos dressed up like Eisav, what that meant is that even when the precious neshoma of a Jew finds itself in the kesus, the levush, of Eisav, his inside remains pure and blessed.

When Eishes Potifar tries to seduce Yosef, the Torah tells us, "Vatispiseihu b'bigdo," she grabbed his clothing (39:12).  The Sefas Emes explains that the yetzer ha'ra has the power to sink its hook into our external levush=begged=kesus. The yetzer can't really get at who we are deep down, but he can nip at our externals and try to change our behavior and our outer personality.  (It's a great strategy because how many of us are in touch with or even think about who we are deep down?   Life is about switching from one role to another, one levush to the next, without taking the time to pay attention to what's underneath.)  So what does Yosef do?  "Va'ya'azov bigdo b'yadah," he abandons that outer shell.  He retreats into himself and digs down to his root core.  (My wife has a creative take on these pesukim here.)  Once you do that, the yetzer no longer has a hold.


Are you tired of winning yet?  I'm not. 

It is lovely to hear and read the protests by the usual Jew haters and self-hating Jews whose moral and intellectual compass is almost always 180 degrees off the mark. 

Despite all his faults, aren't you glad you chose

And not
In case you are too lazy to look it up, here is a link to the White House contact page where you can express your hakaras ha'tov.
Kima'ah Kima'ah -- baby steps. 
Since it's 19 Kislev, at the risk of sacrilege, let me end with this:
Keep up the winning Mr. Trump!

Monday, December 04, 2017

a place in the beis medrash

I came across an interesting Avos d"R' Nosson by way of this shiur from Dr/Reb Michal Tukachinsky. 

חופר גומץ בו יפול וגו' – זו דינה בת לאה
שהיו אחיה ובית אביה יושבים ושונים בבית המדרש,
ויצאה לראות בבנות הארץ שנאמר: ותצא דינה בת לאה (בראשית ל"ד א')
מי הוא נחש שנשכה? זה שכם בן חמור (אבות דר' נתן נוסחא ב פ"ג)

Chazal describe how Ya'akov and his sons were learning in the beis medrash, but Dinah went out and was poreitz geder, which is why she was taken by Shechem.  It is possible that Chazal here are suggesting that Ya'akov and sons are at least partially to blame here for ignoring their sister while she wandered off.  They were in their own world oblivious to her until it was too late.

That alone is an interesting idea, but I think there is another message especially relevant to our time in this Chazal.   How is a Dinah situation to be avoided?  One approach is that if the problem is "poreitz geder," then the solution must be to build a better, bigger, stronger geder.  And this is exactly what most girls' education boils down to (trust me -- I have 3 girls.)

But there is another way.  Ya'akov and his sons were not in danger from Shechem because they were busy in the beis medrash.  There is no temptation for them to go out.  It's only Dinah who is not part of that world who lands in trouble.  The solution would therefore seem to be to help her find a place within it. 

Does that mean Beis Ya'akov should start teaching R' Chaim's and Ketzos?  Lav davka.  You don't need that to have a place in the walls of the beis medrash.  For you men out there, you don't know what you are missing if you have never read/heard a sichah from Yemima Mizrachi.  Here is a woman (and there are others like her) teaching torah on the parsha that inspires hundreds of women who come to hear her every week.  It's musar, chassidus, hashkafa, pshat -- all of that is part of torah too.

So why don't we have more Yemina Mizrachi's, more Michal Tukachinsky's?  Because we have become so afraid of the dreaded threat of "feminism" in the form of JOFA and the like that we've overcompensated and gone to the opposite extreme.  We've kicked women out of the figurative beis medrash and become obsessed with walls.  Walls don't inspire.  Walls don't feed the intellect or the heart.  Perhaps a different strategy is needed.

pre-mattan torah mitzvos

There seems to be a machlokes between the Bavli and Yerushalmi whether a mitzvah given pre-mattan Torah is a stronger mitzvah or a weaker mitzvah.   The Yerushalmi quoted in Tos Kid 38 writes that that the mitzvah of matzah is not doche the issur of chadash because matzah was given pre-mattah Torah and therefore is a weaker aseh.  However, the Bavli Yevamos 5b in searching for a source that an aseh can be doche even an issur kareis says you cannot bring proof from the korban pesach being doche shabbos, or milah being doche Shabbos, because these mitzvos were given pre-mattan Torah and therefore are stronger than all other mitzvos. 

How does either possibility fit with the Rambam's view (see last post) that all mitzvos are binding only because they were given at Sinai?  There is no pre-mattan Torah mitzvos -- everything became binding at the same time.  Why should the fact that there is some pre-mattan Torah background history to some mitzvos have any legal ramification?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Dinah in the box

1) Last week we discussed why Ya'akov is blamed for sticking Dinah in a box to keep her away from Eisav while Leah gets credit for not wanting to marry Eisav.  Isn't that a double-standard?  Indeed it is, answers the Darkei Mussar -- G-d judges each of us by the yardstick appropriate to our own abilities.

Still, it's hard to understand what the expectation was for Ya'akov and Dinah.  My wife pointed out that Eisav was at this point an old man well over 90 with multiple wives.  Dinah was just a little girl.  Would she really be able to influence him to do teshuvah?  Was it fair to Dinah to put her in that situation and risk her exposure to Eisav?  (My wife knows that I read the Midrash as just using the text as a springboard to teach us a didactic lesson.  Whether the details like age fit exactly is not so important, as the point is the moral we are supposed to draw.) 

R' Shach and R' Shteinman both suggest that the Midrash does not mean that Ya'akov should have given Dinah to Eisav as a wife.  To the contrary -- Ya'akov did the right thing in keeping Dinah away.  What Ya'akov is being taken to task for -- and I don't know a better way to put this -- is for not giving a krechtz when he did it.  In other words, the fact that Ya'akov had a mitzvah to protect Dinah from Eisav given who Eisav was should not have prevented Ya'akov from feeling pain at what he had to do and at least pausing a moment to deliberate over it.  There should have at least been a moment when Ya'akov had a shikul ha'da'as about the situation.

This is a tremendous vort.  It's not enough to do the right thing -- you also need to know what attitude you have to have while doing it. 

2) The gemara in Chulin has a machlokes R' Yehudah and Chachamim whether the isur of eating gid ha'nasheh applied to Ya'akov's children or whether it became obligatory on Klal Yisrael only after mattan Torah.  The Rambam in Peirush haMishnayos sets down a general rule: we are not bound by the mitzvah of milah because Avraham did it; we are not bound by the issur of gid ha'nasheh because Ya'akov was told not to eat it.  The parshiyos that tell us about these mitzvos and issurim give us historical background, but the only reason we are bound to keep mitzvos is because they were given to us by G-d at Sinai.

Sounds simple, but it actually seems to fly in the face of a gemara.  The gemara (Horiyos 8b) has a hava amina that the first commandment given to Klal Yisrael is the isur avodah zarah, as that was the first of the dibros we heard at mattan Torah.  The gemara challenges and rejects this hava amina, as we know that there were 10 halachos already given pre-mattan Torah at Marah: 7 mitzvos bnei Noach + dinim, Shabbos, and kibud av.   We had a bunch of commandments that we heard before the isur avodah zarah. 

According to the Rambam, the gemara's question makes no sense.  What we were told at Marah should be no more binding than what Ya'akov was told about gid ha'nasheh or what Avraham was told about milah.  Those instructions don't become "mitzvos" until repeated at mattan Torah.  The first commandment given to Klal Yisrael should indeed have been the isur avodah zarah, as that was the first thing we heard at Sinai!  

I should save this for Parshas Beshalach, but b'kitzur, we see from here that Marah is not just another set of pre-mattan Torah laws like milah, or like gid ha'nasheh -- Marah is actually the start of mattan Torah.  

Bli neder maybe we will come back to this in Parshas Beshalach.  See the Masa'as haMelech of R' Shimon Moshe Diskin on the Rambam.

3) Rashi in our parsha famously quotes (33:4) "halacha b'yadu'a she'Eisav sonei Ya'akov."  Ksav Sofer asks what the "yadu'a" means here -- how do we know it?  It has to be telling us something beyond that it is a "halacha," as that's what the previous word says.

When Rivka sent Ya'akov away to Lavan's house, she told him, "V'yashavta imo yamim achadim ad asher tashuv chamas achicha."  (27:44)  The very next pasuk continues with what seems like a repetition: "Ad shuv af achicha mimcha..."  Ksav Sofer and others explain that there is a actually a big difference between the two phrases.  "Tashuv chamas achicha" means Eisav will no longer be angry.  "Shuv af achicha MIMCHA" means you will no longer be angry at Eisav.  How others feel about us is often a reflection of how we feel about them.  Rivka was hinting to Ya'akov that the best way to stop Eisav from feeling anger and resentment is for Ya'akov to get rid of his own negative feelings toward Eisav.  

Our Rashi can be interpreted in the same light.  "B'yadu'a" means we know it to be true because we can feel it.  Our feelings toward Eisav are to some degree a reflection of Eisav's feelings toward us.  We only need to look inside ourselves, to our own feelings toward Eisav, to have some idea of what Eisav's feelings toward us is.

(That is not an excuse for feeling hatred for Eisav because as Rivka said, the change can start with us and then spread to Eisav.)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

va'yeitzei or va'yivrach?

There is an interesting contrast between the way our parsha describes Ya'akov's departure for Lavan's house -- "Vayeitzei Ya'akov... vayeilech...," which sounds like Ya'akov was leaving for a vacation trip -- and the way the haftarah describes the same event -- "Va'yivrach Ya'akov," Ya'akov fled.  See Sefas Emes 5634.  Maybe the difference is that our parsha is speaking about what happened after Ya'akov spent 14 years learning in yeshivas Shem v'Eiver.  When he first departed, Ya'akov was in fact running for his life.  Then he paused and took stock and immersed himself in Torah.  He had to continue the journey, but now it was a different journey, one which he embarked upon with a different attitude.  Ya'akov now had a sense of calm and purpose, a sense of mission.  

Rashi (28:17) writes that Ya'akov passed by the makom mikdash en route to Lavan's home but continued without stopping.  He later said to himself, "Have I passed by the spot where my forefather's prayed without stopping to pray there myself?" and he turned to go back.  According to Rashi, Hashem then miraculously moved the makom mikdash to Ya'akov to spare him the trip.

R' Shteinman (in his Ayeles haShachar -- and have in mind when you learn this torah that it should be a zechus for a refuah sheleimah for him) makes a nice diyuk in this Rashi.  Ya'akov doesn't say, "I passed the makom mikdash without stopping."  It's not the place itself which he bemoans missing. What he says is maybe I missed "the place where my forefather's davened."  Places themselves are not inherently meaningful or special.  It is what we do there that endows them with significance.

Parenthetically, where do we see that the other Avos davened at the makom mikdash?  Targum Yonasan (25:21) on "va'ye'etar Yitzchak la'Hashem," a phrase we discussed last week, writes that Yitzchak went to Har HaMoriah.  My cousin-in-law R' Avraham Wagner in his sefer Na'ar Yehonasan on the Targum quotes a Zohar and other sources which indicate that Yitzchak went there to offer a korban.  Maybe you can learn k'peshuto that Yitzchak simply went there to daven, as we see from Rashi that the makom mikdash was a makom tefilah for the Avos.

So Ya'akov gets to Lavan's house and discovers that he has two daughters, Rachel and Leah.  Rachel is beautiful, but Leah is described as "einey Le'ah rakos," her eyes were sore.  Rashi, quoting B"B 123, explains that Leah thought that since she was the older daughter, she would have to marry Yitzchak's oldest son, Eisav.  Therefore, she was constantly crying.  Chazal say that Leah got a tremendous reward for those tears.  "Va'yar Hashem ki senu'ah Leah" doesn't mean Leah was hated by Ya'akov -- it refers to Leah hating Eisav, her crying over her plight.  G-d saw that hatred Leah had for Eisav and as a result, "Vayiftach es rachmah," Leah was blessed with children.

The Iyun Ya'akov on this gemara asks: Chazal attribute the tragedy of Dinah being taken by Shechem that we will read about in next week's parsha to Ya'akov failing to give her as a wife to Eisav, which would have pushed Eisav to do teshuvah.  How can Chazal be critical of Ya'akov for not giving Dinah to Eisav as a wife when they praise Leah for not wanting to marry him?   If Leah is justified in not wanting to marry Eisav, why is Ya'akov not justified in not allowing Dinah to marry him?

R' Ya'akov Neiman in Darkei Musar answers that what we learn from this Chazal is that Hashem does not use the same standard yardstick for each of us when he evaluates our behavior.  Hashem measured Leah against the yardstick appropriate for her, and viz a viz where she was holding, it was meritorious for her reject Eisav.  Hashem used a different yardstick when it came to measuring Ya'akov Avinu, one appropriate to the level he was on.  Relative to the expectations for someone on that super-high level, Ya'akov was found wanting in not wanting Dinah to marry his brother.

He offers a second suggestion: Leah was only Eisav's cousin; Ya'akov was a brother.  It may be appropriate for a cousin to reject an Eisav, but a brother can't reject another brother even if he is an Eisav.

The Tiferes Shlomo notes that while Chazal explain to us how "Va'yar Hashem ki senu'ah Leah" is actually a praise, they don't explain why it is that we find only by Rachel and Leah the next phrase of "vayiftach es rachma."  Why not just say "va'tahar va'teiled?"  And how does the first half of the pasuk tie together with the end, "ki Rachel akarah?"

Contrary to what a simple reading of the text might suggest, Leah and Rachel cared for each other very deeply.  Brothers have a responsibility toward each other, and so do sisters.  Why did Leah deserve to have children?  Because "vayftach es rachma," the well of rachmanus in her was open, "ki Rachel akarah," because what bothered her more than her own plight was the fact that her sister was barren.  

Thursday, November 16, 2017

l'nochach ishto

"Va'ye'etar Yitzchak laHashem l'nochach ishto..."  Rashi paints a picture for us: Yitzchak was in one corner of the room, Rivka in the opposite corner, each one davening for a child.  The description is vivid, but what bothers me is why it is necessary at all.  Who cares if Yitzchak and Rivka were standing in opposite corners, in the same corner, in different rooms, in the same room?  Since when is the chumash concerned with painting a scene for us?  What matters is that they davened, period, full stop -- not where they stood in relation to each other.  I'm not sure what according to Rashi the point here is (assuming you understand Rashi literally -- see Maor vaShemesh for a kabbalistic derash).

I actually started thinking about this phrase "l'nochach ishto" two weeks ago when we read the haftarah of VaYeira.  The navi there describes how Elisha put his mouth on the mouth of the dead son of the Isha Shumanis, placed his eyes against his eyes, his hands on his hands, etc.  It sounds like he is doing CPR, but the child was brought back to life miraculously, not by medical intervention (according to most views).  So why did Elisha need to go through this whole act?  Radak answers that Elisha was doing it to arouse his kavanah.  He need the child in his proximity, he needed the physical closeness to atune himself to the situation and focus on it.  Continues Radak, this is just like Yitzchak daveing "l'nochach ishto."  Yitzchak needed Rivka's presence there to focus himself on her plight.  (Parenthetically, for those who pace during davening, I think you have a makor in that haftarah -- "vayashav va'yeilech babayis achas heina v'achas heina.."  See Radak there as well.)  Maybe this is why we place our hands on our children when we bless there before Shabbos or before Y"K.  The physical closeness is there to bring our kavanah to its maximum. 

The simplest pshat in "l'nochach ishto" is, I think, the Rashbam, who writes that it means simply "bishvil ishto," for Rivka's sake.  But this begs the question: doesn't that go without saying?  For whose sake other than Rivka's could he have been praying?  "Ishto" as opposed to who?  Seforno anticipates the question and writes that Yitzchak prayed that his children he would come from Rivka, the most suitable wife for him.  In other words, he wanted to avoid having to take another wife to have children. 

Maybe there is more to it, however, than that.  The Taz in Divrei David raises two (actually more - take a look) fundamental questions on the parsha.  1) Before telling us about Yitzchak's tefilah, the parsha reminds us that Rivka was "bas Besuel ha'Arami... achos Lavan."  Rashi comments that the Torah comes to praise Rivka.  She grew up in a home of idolaters, and nonetheless was a tzadekes. Yet, just one pasuk later the Torah tells us, with respect to Yitzchak's tefilah, "va'yei'aser LO Hashem," Hashem listened to HIS tefilah.  It was to Yitzchak that Hashem responded, not Rivka (according to Rashi, who assumes both were praying independently).  It seems incongruous.   On the one hand, the parsha opens with lavish praise of Rivka, only to set us up for her prayer being rejected due to a shortcoming in her background, at least in comparison to Yitzchak. 2)  We already know who Rivka is from last week's parsha.  We know she grew up in the home of Lavan and Besuel and rose above their bad influence.  Why inject a retelling of her background here?  

The Yismach Moshe suggests a radical pshat in "l'nochach ishto" that will resolve both problems.  Yitzchak viewed himself as continuing the legacy of his father -- there was nothing original or groundbreaking in what he was doing.  Rivka, on the other hand,  had forged her own path to avodah.  The opening of the parsha recounts Rivka's background perhaps to set up the tension between these two approaches.  On the one hand, "Yitzchak ben Avraham" and "Avraham holid es Yiztchak,"  the parsha emphasizes Yitzchak's connection with his father, with the past, with a path that was already forged, vs. "Rivka bas Besuel... achos Lavan," coming from nothing and forging a new path.  

Yitzchak believed, says the Yismach Moshe, that Rivka had the edge on him.  He davened, "l'nochach ishto," invoking her merit as the basis by which G-d should grant them children.  Originality trumps mere fidelity to the past.  "Ishto" here is not to the exclusion of some other potential wife, but rather to the exclusion of Yitzchak himself, to the exclusion of his own merits, which he thought insufficient.

How does G-d respond?  "Va'yei'aser LO," G-d responded to Yitzchak's own prayer.  Three possible ways to read this: 1) According to Rashi, G-d responded to Yitzchak, not Rivka.  The zechus of the tzadik ben tzadik in facts trumps the merit of the tzadik ben rasha.  Following in the footsteps of the past trumps those who must make their own way.  2) Given the Yismach Moshe's understand of the first half of the pasuk, perhaps the meaning here is that G-d responded to Yitzchak davka because he invoked his wife's merits.  3) Finally, and most radically, the Yismach Moshe's own reading is that G-d responded "lo," to Yitzchak as an individual, as opposed to Yitzchak the extension of his father Avraham.  G-d's message to Yitzchak was that his avodah was not merely a replay of his father's life, and therefore devoid of originality, but rather he too stood on his own merits, had his own path, he too had his own way to carve just as Rivka had carved her own (albeit in a more extreme set of circumstances.)

To take one more step, perhaps the tension here between the zechus of following in the foosteps of the past vs. carving a new path is davka highlighted in the context of Yitzchak and Rivka's tefilah for children because the Torah is asking us to consider what we expect from our children -- do we want them to merely walk in our foosteps, or are we davening for a new generation that will carve their own path and move off in a new direction of their own?  And perhaps the better question is not which approach we expect from our children, but which approach we aspire to ourselves.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

root cause

"Hinei yaldah Milkah gam hi banim l'Nachor achicha..."  We know that Nachor is Avraham's brother -- why does the Torah mention it again in recounting the geneology of Nachor's family at the end of last week's parsha?

We learn an important yesod from here.   Even though Avraham had no contact with Nachor for decades (Netziv explains that this was the intent of "Lech lecha... m'beis avicha"), a brother is still a brother, and all the shefa, bracha, and benefits that came into the world because of the tzidkus of Avraham Avinu overflowed and benefited Nachor as well.  They of course probably never suspected that as the cause, but, "Nachor achicha...," when you are related to the tzadik ha'dor and have even a small connection, good things rub off and come your way.  

It is nice to pat yourself on the back and think that if things are going well it is because Hashem is getting nachas ru'ach from your avodah.  But the truth may be that your second cousin twice removed, or even a stranger who you don't even know, is such a tremendous ba'al chessed, ba'al avodah, etc. that the whole world benefits from -- including you.  

On the other hand, who knows?  It could be your tefilos, that you don't think are having any effect, are benefiting a Jew somewhere in the world who really needs it.

We see the same idea in our parsha.  "Hinei Rivka yotzeis asher yuldah l'Besuel..."  Why the passive voice, "yuldah?"  Kedushas Levi explains that Rivka may have biologically born to Besuel, but what caused a girl like Rivka to come into the world was the chessed of Avraham miles and miles away.  Besuel reaped the results, but the cause of events was Avraham Avinu.

Eliezer says that if the test he devised to find the right girl works out it proves, "ki asisa chessed im adoni." (24:14).  G-d was not doing chessed "l'adoni"  = for Avraham, i.e. giving him a gift, but rather "im adoni" = with Avraham, i.e. the chessed Avraham himself did was what created and set in motion events leading to Rivka.

How does this work?  The way Hashem interacts with a person mirrors the way that person interacts with the world.  For example, Chazal say that a person who is ma'avir al midosav, who is forgiving, will have his/her own sins forgiven.  But it goes beyond personal benefit.  The way Hashem interacts with the whole world changes.  The chessed of Avraham opened a channel of chessed -- there was more chessed coming down to the entire world.  That abundance of chessed caused a Rivka, another ba'alas chessed, to develop.

This idea can also shed light on how Eliezer managed to have such tremendous success Eliezer had on his mission.  Ya'akov Avinu, the paragon of emes, had to spend 14 years in Yeshivas Shem v'Eiver preparing himself to deal with the cheat and liar Lavan.  Here, Eliezer walks into the lion's den and walks out with Rivka on the same day.  How did that happen?

Chazal tell us that Eliezer had a daughter of marriageable age who he would have loved to see married to Yitzchak.  Shem m'Shmuel writes that this was not a coincidence.  Hashem was using reverse psychology in placing him in this situation.  Davka because Eliezer faced the temptation of not being true to Avraham and to his mission made him that much more on guard and dedicated to carrying out his shlichus faithfully.  When a person makes such a great effort to be true to his master, his mission, in turn Hashem mirrors that and more truth and faithfulness come into the world.  That extra burst of truth energy, if you will, is what enabled him to overcome Lavan.

Monday, November 06, 2017

better than a free gift

After passing the test of the akeidah Avraham is told his reward: "V'hisbarchu b'zaracha kol goyei ha'aretz eikev asher shamata b'koli." (22:18)

Some of the meforshim ask: what kind of a reward is this?  Avraham had already been promised this by G-d at the beginning of Lech Lecha: "V'nivrechu becha kol mishp'chos ha'adamah." (12:3)  Now, ten tests later, he is promised the same thing all over again -- that's it?! 

I want to suggest a solution based on a beautiful Netziv elsewhere in our parsha.  B'pashtus, the story of the angels being welcomed by Lot and being invited into his home in contrast to the attack upon them by the rest of the populace of Sdom serves to establish a zechus for Lot so that he would merit being saved and seals the fate of the people of Sdom by their wickedness.  Yet that can't be.  As we discussed last post, the fate of Sdom was already sealed before the malachim even got there.  Hashem had already refused Avraham's prayers on their behalf and one the angels was on a mission to destroy the city.  The other angel that came to Sdom was there to save Lot, so his fate too was already sealed.  The reaction of Lot and the reaction of the people of Sdom to the arrival of the angels did not make any difference to the outcome.  So why is this story interjected?

Netziv (Harchev Davar) answers that there is something even better than G-d given you a free favor and rescuing you in a time of need.  What's even better is earning that gift and reward.  G-d would certainly have saved Lot no matter what; Sdom would have been destroyed in any case.  However, by sending the angels, Hashem provided Lot with the opportunity to do chessed and earn the rescue that he was going to be given (see also Ohr haChaim 19:1).  Hashem have the people of Sdom the opportunity to demonstrate their wickedness so that there was no question of their deserving everything they got. 

The greatest gift that Hashem can give is the opportunity to serve him and earn the bracha and yeshu'a that is needed and not have to get it as a handout.

Perhaps the key difference between the bracha in parshas Lech Lecha and the bracha in VaYeira is the end of the pasuk: "Eikev asher shamata b'koli."   EIkev means you've earned it; it's not a favor, but rather it's a justified outcome.  That could only come after the tenth test.