“To the Land that I Will Show You”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Lech Lecha, G-d instructs Abram (his name had not yet been changed to Abraham), to begin his history-altering journey to the land of Canaan.

The Torah in Genesis 12:1 states, “Va’yo’mer Hashem el Avram: Lech l’cha may’ahr’tz’cha oo’mee’moh’lahd’t’chah, oo’mee’bayt ah’vee’cha, ehl ha’ah’retz ah’sher ahr’eh’kah,” G-d said to Abraham: Go for yourself from your country, from your relatives, from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.

In Genesis 12:2-3, G-d promises Abram that once he reaches the new land, G-d will transform Abram into a great nation. He will bless him and make Abram’s name great, and he shall be a blessing to all–and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by Abram.

The commentators are much perplexed by G-d’s call to Abram instructing him to “go to the land that I [G-d] will show you.” Why did G-d not clearly state that He was sending Abram to the land of Canaan?

The Malbim notes that already at the end of parashat Noach, Genesis 11:31, the Torah states that, “Terach took his son Abram and Lot, the son of Haran, his grandson, and his daughter-in-law, Sarai…and they departed with them from Ur Kasdim to go to the land of Canaan,” but when they came as far as Haran, they settled there. From this verse, it would seem eminently clear that Abram already knew that his destination would be the land of Canaan.

The Malbim, however, clarifies that although it was Abram’s intention to head toward Canaan, Abram did not know whether Canaan would be his final destination. By following G-d’s instruction to go to the land that He [G-d] will show him, Abram proved his selfless devotion to the will of G-d.

The Midrash Tanchuma adds that by showing his unqualified devotion to G-d’s word, Abram merited to receive greater rewards in the future.

According to the Abarbanel, G-d did not reveal the final destination to Abram because He did not want the heathens to follow Abram to Canaan. The Malbim even suggests that had the land of Canaan been specified, Abram’s father, Terach, might have accompanied him, as he did when Abram left Ur Kasdim. It was G-d’s will that Abram go alone.

The Ramban argues that, at this time, Abram did not know where G-d ultimately wanted him to go. While Abram’s original intention when he left Ur Kasdim was to travel toward Canaan, Abram did not know that Canaan would be his ultimate destination. Abram therefore wandered about, from country to country, and only when he arrived in Canaan and G-d told him (Genesis 12:7), “To your descendants will I give this land,” did Abram know that Canaan was the Al-mighty’s intended land, and he then settled there.

The Midrash HaGadol suggests that the Hebrew word in Genesis 12:1 be read, “ehr’eh’kah” not “ahr’eh’kah.” Rather than say, “I will show you,” G-d says to Abram, “I will see you,” meaning that once Abram arrives in the land of Canaan, G-d, whose Divine presence hovers throughout the land, will see Abram constantly. The Midrash Tanchuma reads the word “ay’rah’eh’cha,” meaning, I will appear to you. It is only in the land of Israel that Abram will be worthy of Divine revelation.

The Ha’amek Davar suggests that Abram intuitively understood that Canaan possessed a unique holiness, and therefore set it as his goal.

Rashi, citing the Midrash, suggests that the Al-mighty did not specify the ultimate destination in order to keep Abram in suspense, making the destination even more beloved in Abram’s eyes. G-d also wished to reward Abram for every step that he took based on his faith. Rashi notes that a similar ambiguity is found at the binding of Isaac (the Akeida). There G-d said to Abraham (Genesis 22:2), “Take your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac,” not identifying Isaac immediately. Because of the ambiguity in G-d’s instructions, Abraham is rewarded for every one of G-d’s spoken words.

The Midrash Rabbah Genesis 39:9 cites Rabbi Hunah, who said in Rabbi Eliezer’s name: G-d first places the righteous in doubt, and then reveals to them the meaning of the matter. At the Akeida itself, G-d also said to Abraham that he should bring the child [Isaac] up “upon one of the mountains, which I will show you,” without even specifying the exact mountain.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik notes in Darosh Darash Yosef that, although Abraham did not know the identity of the exact mountain, he knew that the ultimate destination was the land of Moriah. However, in G-d’s command to Abram in parashat Lech Lecha to leave the country, Abram was not given any specific information. How then was Abram to know where to go? And for what reason would G-d wish to bewilder and mystify Abram?

Rabbi Soloveitchik suggests that:

G-d wanted Abram to discover the Promised Land intuitively. It was essential that Abram feel the pull of Eretz Yisrael. G-d wanted Abram to be fascinated by the land, and to migrate to it, just as some species of fish migrate instinctively. G-d wanted Abram to be guided not by the logic of his mind, but by his intuition. In this way, G-d challenged Abram to nurture his spiritual antennae, his ability to distinguish between Kodesh [sacred] and Chol [non-sacred]. Had Abram erred at this juncture in his selection of the land, all would have been lost.

Rabbi Soloveitchik suggests that it was a most central theme in Judaism–kedushah, the sanctity of the land–that was the reason that Abram gravitated to Canaan. This was the profound discovery made by Abram. The concept of sanctity was completely antithetical to the values of the people who had lived before him, especially the generation of the flood and the generation of the Tower of Babel.

Rabbi Soloveitchik underscores the stark absence of sanctified values among the people who had preceded Abram. Adam and Eve were attracted not by sanctity, but by the aesthetics of the Tree of Knowledge. When they saw that it was “good for eating, and a delight to the eyes” (Genesis 3:6), they were simply unable to resist partaking of its fruit. Similarly, when the sons of the rulers (Genesis 6:2) “saw that the daughters of man were good,” they took for themselves wives from whomever they chose. For the generation of the Tower of Babel, human dignity and the sanctity of life were secondary to technological growth, with which the people were obsessed.

Says Rabbi Soloveitchik, “Abraham proclaimed a new world order of kedushah [sanctity], which is fascinating beyond the attraction of power, or the allure of beauty. Abraham understood that humankind’s deepest hopes and yearnings are not for power or aesthetic enjoyment, but rather to find G-d and to cling to Him.”

It was Abram’s intuitive thirst for kedushah, sanctity, that led him to search for the Master of the Universe, and to settle in that special land that is the wellspring of sanctity, the land of Canaan.

May you be blessed.