Regardless of any rationalization, difference in interpretation or understanding of what it means to be part of the Jewish nation, I think we can all agree that it is no coincidence that Avraham, father of the Jewish people, was told to leave everything behind and immigrate to the Land of Israel.
וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-אַבְרָם, לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ
God said to Abram, ‘Go away from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you’
The wording of G-D’s command to Avraham, however, is very puzzling. The first question that arises is what do we learn from the repetitive, seemingly redundant language? If G-D was telling Avraham simply to leave his land, it could have said “lech”, which means “go.” But the words “Lech lecha”, literally translated, mean “go to yourself.” Secondly, the instructions given to Avraham seem problematic. Obviously, when giving someone directions, you instruct them in a step-by-step order from their present location to their destination. Here, the order is perfectly reversed. Avraham is first told to leave his country, then his hometown, lastly his precise location, his father’s house.
Rashi comments on the wording of “lech lecha”, telling us that the double language denotes for one’s own good and benefit. Examining further commentaries, we find that the first word “lech” describes a physical journey, while the second word, “lecha,” describes a spiritual and emotional journey. The Slonomer Rebbe, elaborating on this concept, teaches us that it implies to fulfill one’s purpose, reason for being and unique task in this world.
The proper understanding of the words “lech lecha” sheds light on the second half of G-D’s command to Avraham. Hashem is telling Avraham as well as instructing the entire Jewish people how and where to begin their individual and national journey. As such, Avraham is instructed not in chronological order from current physical location to destination, but rather in order of the easiest to most difficult steps on a spiritual journey. “Your land, birthplace and father’s house” serve as an ordered representation of the depth of character traits ingrained in a person, and thus the difficulty in uprooting them.
Avraham is being instructed to fulfill his potential through a journey to self-perfection. “Your land” comes to represent the negative influence of the culture in your home country; all those cultural traits foreign to Judaism, which we take on through assimilation, as well as any unnecessary material attachments. “Your place of birth” is an indication of the social and economic status acquired from the family you were born in to. It also entails an awareness and improvement of any negative personality traits you’ve inherited – genetically as well as those picked up from your immediate surroundings that have become second nature. In the same sense, leaving “your father’s house” refers to overcoming behavioral patterns learned from your parents. The lesson taken is that in order to fulfill your purpose in the world, you have to rid yourself of all negative traits, whether inherited, learned or absorbed from your environment.
Furthermore, we see that G-D is in fact telling Avraham to go on aliyah. This may be difficult for those Jews still living in exile, many of whom have yet to come to this realization as well as the majority who must continually struggle with the discomfort such a realization brings.
No one can claim that living in Israel is easy, and the Torah never presents it as such. Avraham is commanded to take a leap of faith and travel to the land that G-D will show him, where he will then merit to father an entire nation. Almost immediately upon his arrival in Israel, however, he is confronted by certain poverty (some things never change) as famine ravages the land.
It is clear, as presented in the Torah, that Israel is for whatever reason (which I hope to examine in a future post) the place most suitable for a Jew to realize his potential and it is G-D’s will and explicit command to live there. At this early point in Jewish history, the argument can be raised that this commandment was particular to Avraham, but this falls flat as one continues to study G-D’s ‘interactions’ with the Jewish patriarchs and beyond.
The duty to live in Eretz Yisrael permeates and underlies all of Torah and the reasons for doing so are borne out constantly and very often tragically throughout Jewish history. We don’t have to search very far to learn why. We will examine, in an upcoming post, the experiences of Yaakov (Jacob), the third of the Jewish patriarchs. We will learn the lessons taught by his experience living outside of Israel, including the recurring pattern and the dangers brought about by material comfort and success, which are followed by the inevitable rise of antisemitism.