“Go to yourself, (…) to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you; and make your name great, and be you a blessing.” (Genesis 12:1-2)
God promises Abraham the land of Canaan that was settled by heathen nations, hence not necessarily considered a “good” land. Furthermore, Abraham had to go down to Egypt because of the severe famine that stroke that land (12:10). What was particularly special about Canaan, where God would make Abraham “a great nation” with His blessing, and make his name “great” to be “a blessing”?
The answer is not probably related to the land itself, but to a “place” certainly even greater; and that is the goodness that makes us individually and collectively good; a “great” nation with a “great” name, which make us a blessing. Our Sages relate “greatness” to “goodness”; hence God is great because He is good.
The way the beginning of this Torah portion is phrased, “go to yourself (…) to the land that I will show you”, indicates that the Creator is inviting Abraham to find goodness within himself, to live by it, and pass it to his descendants as his legacy for eternity.
Whatever comes from this place inside is good, which is also a blessing. We have indicated often that all blessings are inherent in goodness. The Hebrew word for blessing is “source” or “fountain” associated to water as an abstraction for goodness. Thus we “bless” God in our daily prayers and benedictions, for He is the Source of all the blessings that sustain His entire creation.
Undoubtedly, the goodness referred in the quoted verses has a place in this world, as an anchor chosen by the Creator. That is the land of Canaan, where His also chosen people were destined to build a Temple for Him to dwell among us. Later in time, God and His people would remove the heathen nations from this land, precisely to turn it into a dwelling place for Him on earth.
Goodness dwells where there is goodness, for it is its own vessel. This statement carries the ethical principle that defines goodness, for it doesn’t cohabit with anything alien to its ways and attributes. The Jewish tradition states that God does not associate with evil, for He “hates” the wicked. Hence His goodness bonds with those who are good and do good, as the next verse indicates.
“And I will bless them that bless you, and him that curses you will I curse; and in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” (12:3)
These verses define the covenant God proposed to Abraham, for goodness is its foundation and purpose. The essential lesson from them is to go to our own individual goodness, and settle on it as the ethical ruling, directing and guiding principle in God’s creation; in order to make it prevail in all aspects, dimensions and expressions of human life. Thus we all are blessed, curses are removed, and in goodness “all the families of the earth shall be blessed”.
In the haftarah for this portion, the Prophet reiterates the covenant we mentioned, for the Creator to pour the blessings of His goodness in this world; through those who find goodness as the bond with Him, “His servants”.
“And you, O Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen; seed of Abraham, My beloved. Whom I have taken hold of from the ends of the earth, and from its corners I have called you; and I say to you, ‘My servant you are’, I have chosen you, and not rejected you.” (Isaiah 41:8-9)