Parshat Lech Lecha
Rabbi Israel Chait
Transcribed by students
Lech Lecha 12/1-2: “Hashem said to Abram, ‘Go for yourself from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation; I will bless you, and I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” At first glance all seems well; Abram is to venture forth on a journey that will bring him to a land where his destiny is to be fulfilled. And indeed the first Rashi in Lech Lecha seems to support this theme. Regarding the words “Go for yourself”, Rashi comments: “For your pleasure, and for your benefit. There I will make of you a great nation, whereas here you do not merit children. And furthermore, you will benefit by going, for thereby I will make your name known in the world.”
We see in the Torah, however, that Abram’s life is far from the dream one might imagine for themselves; Abram is always on the move, never truly settling down, continually journeying while constantly undergoing various trials and tribulations. This is born out from the very command G-d told Abram; namely, what does G-d mean when he tells Abram to go “to the land that I will show you”? Where is Abram to go right now? And so the Ramban comments on the words “to the land that I will show you” that Abram was a wayfaring nomad wandering like a lost sheep. (See also Rashi, 20:13).
Another question arises on closer inspection of the text. There is a factual inconsistency in the pasuk (verse). G-d tells Abram to go from his land, his birthplace, and from his father’s house; however, at the end of parshas Noach, Abram already left his birthplace and settled in Haran. Rashi observes the question and offers an answer: “Had he not already left there with his father and come to Haran? But [G-d] said to him as follows: Go yet further from there, and leave the house of your father.” Nevertheless, the pasuk should have written the chronological sequence of such events, namely, first to leave his father’s house and then his birthplace and his land?
Regarding the land that G-d will show Abram Rashi comments: “He did not reveal the land to him immediately, in order to make it precious in his eyes, and to give him reward for each and every statement...” How does not knowing such information make the land more loving in Abram’s eyes? If Abram does not know where he is going, there exists no love-object for Abram to imagine.
If we take a brief look into Abram’s spiritual journeys thus far we can better understand the “Lech Lecha” command. Abram’s perception of G-d and religious convictions came about, not through emotional religious feelings or perceptions about G-d, but rather, as the Rambam explains, through an intellectual journey of the mind; Abram was truly the first great investigator who established the proper religious methodology for future generations, namely, one arrives at the truth through investigation, knowledge, and understanding, not emotional religious perceptions. The E’tz Yosef in the sidur O’tzer Tephilos explains that the reason why the Amidah specifies the “G-d of Abraham”, “G-d of Isaac”, and “G-d of Jacob” (joining G-d’s name with each patriarch) rather than saying collectively, the “G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”, is so that one should not think that the reason why Isaac and Jacob believed in G-d was because they were simply following their great father’s traditions. Rather, each of them was an investigator (following the methodology of their father) regarding their spiritual life.
Abram’s religious investigations led not only to philosophical knowledge regarding G-d but psychological knowledge regarding idolatry. The primitive idolater assumes that his emotions are the baseline of the mind and proceeds from there. Abram said that these feelings, drives, and powerful emotions are no different than phenomena that exist in the external world, except that they exist in the internal world. When one then proceeds to analyze these internal phenomena just as one would use their mind to investigate external phenomena it becomes evident that the primitive religious emotions are not a determinant of reality.
The Lech Lecha command was now an opportunity for Abram to continue his religious journey by undergoing a physical journey. Abram discovered that a person’s emotions and what he might believe in so strongly are nothing more than phenomena that can be analyzed and broken down.
In Lech Lecha, G-d tells Abram that there is another group of powerful feelings that now must be analyzed and understood using this same methodology, namely, the emotional sense of security and attachment to Abram’s county, birthplace and father’s home. Hence, the order of G-d’s command was not in terms of the physical events of leaving but rather the psychological. Abram first had to attack the periphery of the emotion, his attachments to his country, his land, and his birthplace and then could proceed to analyze his attachment and sense of security derived from the family, specifically his father.
Furthermore, we can now understand why G-d did not identify to Abram his destination; if Abram knew which land was his final address he would have simply transferred his emotions to that location. Abram had to be a nomadic wanderer to truly appreciate the sense of assurance one derives from a permanent home. And once Abram understood this emotion he could break free from its domain. These emotions, it should be noted, are by no means against the ways of the Torah; the stability of a permanent home and family are important and necessary for most people to grow and mature. But it is important to recognize just how powerful these emotions can be and not to let them interfere with one’s spiritual development. For Abram, however, the only security and emotional fulfillment could be from his relationship to G-d.
The Torah, recognizing the powerful and sensitive emotional attachments to family, hid the fact that when Abram left his fathers house Terah was still alive. Rashi comments at the end of parshas Noach that “when Abram left Haran many years of Terah’s lifetime still remained at the time if Abram’s departure. Why then did Scripture put the death of Terah ahead of the departure of Abram? So that the matter should not be publicized to everyone, so they would say, ‘Abram did not fulfill the precept of honoring his father for he abandoned him when aged, and went off.” But for Abram the only true relationship could be with G-d.
In conclusion, we can now understand why G-d’s not revealing the land to Abram would make it precious in his eyes. By removing his emotional security from the idea of country, birthplace and home, Abram could now realize that his true security could only come from that which would bring him closer to G-d, namely, mitzvos ha’aretz, adhering to G-d’s commandment to live in Eretz Yisroel. By breaking down the false concepts of a homeland, the true concept of Eretz Yisroel emerges, and hence, this land could now be truly precious in Abram’s eyes; Abram’s love could now be attached to the true concept of Eretz Yisroel, to the status of a commandment emanating from G-d, the adherence to which would ultimately bring Abram closer to G-d.