The Torah in Parashat Chayei-Sara tells the famous story of Avraham’s servant – commonly identified as Eliezer (though his name is not mentioned in this section) – who journeyed to Aram Naharayim (in Mesopotamia) at Avraham’s bidding to find a suitable match for Yitzchak. The servant meets Rivka, the daughter of Yitzchak’s cousin, Betuel, at the well outside the city, and she invited him and his men into her family’s home, where the servant requested permission to bring Rivka to Canaan in order to marry Yitzchak.
The servant tells the family about the instructions he received from Avraham and about his experiences after setting out on his mission, including, “Va-avo hayom el ha-ayin” – “I arrived today at the well” (24:42). The Gemara in Masekhet Sanhedrin (95a), as mentioned by Rashi, interprets this verse to mean that the servant miraculously reached Aram Naharayim on the same day he left Canaan. This incident is listed by the Gemara as one of three instances of people that “kaftza lahem ha-aretz” – “the land ‘jumped’ for them,” enabling them to travel a lengthy distance in a short amount of time.
How might we understand this concept of “kaftza lahem ha-aretz”?
Rav Chaim Hagar of Kosov, in his Torat Chaim, suggests a symbolic explanation for this phenomenon, noting that the root k.f.tz. can mean not only “jump,” but also “clasp” or “close.” Thus, for example, the Torah commands in Sefer Devarim (15:7), “Lo tikpotz et yadekha” – that we must not “close” our hands when a pauper needs our financial assistance Accordingly, the Rebbe of Kosov understands the expression “kaftza…ha-aretz” as referring to the constricting of the “ground” – the symbol of the mundane realm, our physical and material pursuits. The depiction of an expanse of territory shrinking represents the ideal of “histapkut” – moderation of physical and material indulgence, accepting and feeling content with a reasonably modest lifestyle, rather than constantly striving for more comforts, luxuries and enjoyment. Chazal depict the ground “shrinking” for certain righteous figures to teach us the quality of moderation in our pursuit of physical and enjoyment and material comforts, the willingness to “shrink” and limit our indulgence. While we are certainly permitted and even encouraged to enjoy the delights of the world, we must avoid excessive preoccupation with physical enjoyment and the pursuit of wealth.
We might add that this explanation closely relates to the plain meaning of “kaftza…ha-aretz,” as referring to miraculously swift travel. Simply put, the less we insist on high material standards, the more time we will have for meaningful endeavors. So often, our preoccupation with vain pleasures and excessive indulgence distracts our attention and consumes precious time which could be used far more valuably and meaningfully. Chazal depict a swift, efficient journey with the image of the ground constructing, perhaps to teach us that our lives will be far more efficient, and we will be far more accomplished, if we learn how to “constrict” our pursuit of vain pleasures, and devote more time and attention to more important and valuable goals.