Lech Lecha teaches us is that no matter how high one can climb on the ladder of spiritual perfection in Chutz LaAretz, he can always climb higher in God’s Chosen Land.


by Rabbi Moshe D. Lichtman


There is hardly a section in this week’s
parashah that does not contain an explicit reference to the Holy Land. One could even say
that Eretz Yisrael is one of the main themes of the parashah. Thus, my dilemma this week was
not how to find a reference to Eretz Yisrael, but how to choose between them all. I decided to
keep it plain and simple and start at the beginning. HaShem commands Avraham, Lech Lecha
– Go forth from your land… to the Land that I will show you (12:1). Rav Meir Yechiel of
Ostrovtza points out something so obvious and significant that one can only wonder why no
one mentioned it before: These words constitute the first mitzvah ever given to a Jew! Yes,
the first thing God ever said to Avraham, the first Jew, was, “Leave your birthplace and
immigrate to My special Land.” One would have thought that belief in God, rejection of
idolatry, or some other cardinal, religious principle would have been the first commandment
(as we find in the Ten Commandments). Furthermore, one would have expected God to
introduce Himself to Avraham, as He did to Moshe Rabbeinu at the Burning Bush. Instead,
when it comes to Avraham Avinu, there are no introductions, no profound opening
statements, just Lech Lecha. Why is this so? Why did God choose to begin Judaism with Go
forth… to the Land? R. Yehudah HaLevi, the author of Sefer HaKuzari, provides a beautiful
answer:You find that after Avraham – the most exceptional person [of his time] – climbed the
ladder of perfection and became eligible to cling to Godliness, he was transferred from his
land to that place [Eretz Yisrael], the only place where he could reach absolute perfection.
This is exactly what a farmer does. When he finds the root of a good, fruit-bearing tree in

parched soil, he transfers it to workable soil, which will naturally help it prosper. He
nurtures it there until it becomes one of the trees of the garden, instead of the wild shrub that
is was until now. [He helps it] become a tree that generates many other, similar trees,
instead of one that sprouts accidentally in a random place, as it did until now. The same
thing happened with the descendants of Avraham regarding prophecy. As long as they were
in Eretz Yisrael, many of them prophesied; and many factors aided them – [the laws of]
purity, divine service, sacrifices, and most of all, the proximity of the Shechinah (Divine
Presence). In other words, although Avraham had attained high levels of perfection outside
the Land, God knew that he would be able to fulfill his destiny and attain true perfection only
in Eretz Yisrael. This is why He (God) did not introduce Himself to Avraham first, or begin
with some lofty commandment. All of that would come later on. First, the conditions had to
be right. Avraham had to leave the defiled lands of exile and enter his natural habitat, where
he could thrive and grow, and produce offspring that could do the same. Think about it. As
we all know, Avraham was doing some very important things in Chutz LaAretz. He was
discovering his Creator, fighting idolatry, converting people to monotheism, performing acts
of kindness, etc. Nonetheless, God said to him, “This is all fine and dandy, but you’re doing
it in the wrong place. You can accomplish so much more in My special Land.” For years,
people failed to make aliyah primarily for materialistic reasons. Today, however, when one
can live quite comfortably here in Eretz Yisrael (baruch HaShem), the major deterrent is
spiritual complacency. People feel that they have it all in Chutz LaAretz – frum communities,
Torah learning (like daf yomi), chesed organizations, kiruv, kosher restaurants, etc. What
Lech Lecha teaches us is that no matter how high one can climb on the ladder of spiritual
perfection in Chutz LaAretz, he can always climb higher in God’s Chosen Land. Yes, the
first divine command ever given to a Jew was Lech Lecha, because Eretz Yisrael is the
prerequisite for all of Judaism. WHEN THERE’S A WILL THERE’S A WAY When God
commanded Avraham to leave his birthplace and go to “the Land that I will show you”
(12:1), our forefather did not hesitate nor question the order. On the contrary, he
immediately picked up and began his journey, as it says two verses later, And Avraham went
as the Lord had spoken to him. All of the commentators on Pirkei Avot (5:3) agree that this is
one (if not the first) of the ten trials that Avraham faced, and passed, on his way to becoming
the first Patriarch of the Jewish people. In many places in his commentary on the Torah, the
Ramban develops the theme of מעשה אבות סימן לבנים – the deeds of the Patriarchs are a sign for
their descendants. It therefore behooves us, the descendants of Avraham Avinu, to better
understand the test of Lech Lecha and try to apply it to our own lives. I am sure (or at least
I hope) that after recent events many people are thinking about aliyah more than ever before.
The problem is that it is much easier said than done. People are so rooted in the Diaspora
that it is hard to leave. It is not so simple to close down a business, sell a house or a practice,
uproot children from familiar surroundings, leave family and friends behind, and start all
over again. Not to mention the financial burdens, language issues, etc. etc. I would
therefore like to quote three ideas that may help make the move a little bit easier. Firstly, we
must understand that, in the long run, it is in our best interest to live in Eretz Yisrael. When
God commanded Avraham to go forth, He said, I will make you into a great nation; I will
bless you; I will make your name great; and you will be a blessing (12:2). R. Zalman
Sorotzkin comments in Oznayim LaTorah: I will make you into a great nation: This is a sign
for his descendants. One who is unsure whether he should immigrate to Eretz Yisrael must
first think about the good of his nation. It is impossible [for Am Yisrael] to be a great nation
outside its Land. This is true both quantitatively – for the lands of our enemies consume us –
and qualitatively, for the Shechinah does not dwell in Chutz LaAretz. However, it is good to
move to Eretz Yisrael even for one’s own benefit, for HaShem has commanded the blessing
there, [as it says], I will bless you – that is, with money, for our money in Chutz LaAretz is not
ours. Foreigners consume it; they murder [us] and inherit [our possessions], as they did to
six million Jews in Europe. I will make your name great: The wisdom of the wretched,
Diaspora Jew is despised. The Gentiles pay no attention to it. And if a Jew invents
something new, which cannot be ignored, they publicize it in the name of the nation… saying,
“So-and-so the German or Frenchman invented such-and-such.” But if you invent something

in Eretz Yisrael, I will make your name great – i.e., your Jewish name. The Netziv gives us
some practical advice on how to make sure we make it to the Holy Land. As quoted above,
immediately after receiving his marching orders, Avraham Avinu set out on his journey: And
Avraham went as the Lord had spoken to him (12:4). The Netziv claims that the phrase “as
the Lord had spoken to him” does not mean what it usually means. Rather: It means [that he
left] immediately, while God was still speaking. He did not wait to take care of all the
necessary preparations. He left immediately, so that the selling of his estate and the like
would not prevent him [from going altogether]… He left his wife and other family members
in the city until they sold everything. [Meanwhile] he journeyed slowly. Then, after he
already left the city and began his journey, his men took care of everything, and then they all
caught up with him. It then says, Avram took [Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew and all their
possessions] (12:5)… After he began his journey and knew that nothing would prevent him
from actually going, he saw fit to worry about his money… In the beginning, however, he
estimated that staying back to protect his money could undermine the whole trip. He
therefore decided to leave immediately, no matter what. This is an important rule to learn for
all mitzvot. Granted, in our day and age it would be very difficult to do exactly as Avraham
Avinu did, but the basic idea is still valid and very important. Those who try to make aliyah
on the “ten- (or even five-) year plan” usually never end up coming. You have to do it as
soon as possible, because the longer you wait the harder it is. But more importantly, you
must do things that lock you into aliyah. You must begin the journey right away, even though
you might walk slowly once you have begun. This could mean always talking about aliyah,
picking a profession that is geared for Israel, renting instead of buying a house, etc. etc.
Even with these and other pieces of advice, making aliyah is not easy. Some people might
be daunted by the challenge and think that they can never do it. R. Chayim of Volozhin
teaches otherwise. The Mishnah states, “Avraham Avinu was tested with ten trials, and he
stood up to them all” (Avot 5:3). R. Chayim comments in his Ruach Chayim (ibid.): Here it
says, “Avraham Avinu,” while [in the previous Mishnah] it says, “[There were ten
generations] from Noach to Avraham,” without the word Avinu. The explanation is based on
the verse: A righteous man walks in his innocence, fortunate are his children after him
(Mishley 20:7). A tzaddik works hard to achieve good character traits, and they become like
second nature to his children, who can achieve them with little effort. This is apparent from
the fact that many simple Jews sacrifice their lives to sanctify God’s name. [They are able to
do so because this trait] is ingrained in us from our father Avraham, who let himself [be
thrown] into the fire of Kasdim for the sake of his beliefs. Similarly, [the purpose of] all ten
of the trials was to straighten the path for us. Also, a person’s sudden awakening to go to the
Holy Land stems from the test of Lech Lecha… No one can claim that making aliyah is too
difficult. Every Jew has in his blood, in his very make up – his spiritual genes, if you will –
the ability and wherewithal to leave his birthplace and his father’s house to go to the Land
that God has already shown us. Additional References( The Lord appeared to Avram and
said, “To your descendants I will give this Land;” and he built there an altar to the Lord Who
appeared to him (12:7). The reason HaShem did not appear to him immediately when He
said, Go forth from your land (12:1) is because Avraham was still in Chutz LaAretz at the
time… and the Shechinah does not reveal itself outside the Land… Therefore, HaShem did
not appear to him there visually. Rather, Avraham just heard a voice speaking. This is why
he did not build an altar there, only [building one] to the Lord Who appeared to him. As long
as God did not appear to him, however, he did not want to build an altar in a place where the
Shechinah does not rest… (Kli Yakar) ( There was a famine in the Land, and Avram went
down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the Land (12:10). Know that
Avraham Avinu committed a great sin, unintentionally, by putting his righteous wife in [a
situation where she was] liable to sin, because he was afraid that they might kill him. He
should have trusted God to save him, his wife, and all his possessions… In addition, his
departure from the Land – about which he had been commanded at first – because of the
famine, was also a sin that he committed. For God, in famine, will deliver him from death (cf.
Iyov 5:20). Because of this deed, his descendants were condemned to exile in Egypt, at the
hands of Pharaoh… (Ramban) ( Avram ascended from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he

had – and Lot with him – to the south… He went on his journeys from the south to Beit-El, to
the place where his tent had been at first, between Beit-El and Ai, to the site of the altar,
which he had made there at first; and there Avram called on the name of the Lord (13:1-3).
To the south: Rashi explains, “To the south of Eretz Yisrael”… Scriptures informs us that
Avram went to the south of Eretz Yisrael to teach us that he longed to return to this place,
especially since it is auspicious for Torah study, as I explained above [12:9, see there]. He
went on his journeys from the south to beit-el: …Before he reached the south, he had a
positive commandment to return to Eretz Yisrael, and he longed to inhale the spirit of the
Torah… [Therefore], he did not wait for all the cattle that he possessed, leaving them in the
hands of his servants. After he arrived there, however, he [simply] wanted to go to Beit-El,
the site of the altar, where he would be more able to invoke the name of the Lord… That was
not as essential. Therefore, he concerned himself with protecting the cattle and went on his
journeys… (Ha’amek Davar) ( The Lord said to Avram after Lot was separated from him,
“Lift up now your eyes and look out from the place where you are [standing]: northward,
southward, eastward, and westward. For all the Land that you see, I will give it to you and to
your descendants forever… Arise, walk through the Land, in its length and in its breadth, for
I will give it to you (13:14-17). One opinion in the Gemara (Bava Batra 100a) learns from
the words Arise, walk through the Land… that a person can acquire property by walking
around its borders. The Sages, however, disagree, explaining that God said these words out
of love for Avraham: “To make it easy for his descendants to conquer [the Land].” The
Torah Temimah elaborates: That is to say, [HaShem told Avraham to walk through the Land]
in order to prevent the antagonists from opposing the Jewish people’s inheritance of the Land
and claiming that they are stealing it. Therefore, the Holy One Blessed be He preempted [the
antagonists] and bequeathed it to Avraham explicitly. Thus, when the Jews take over the
Land, they will do so in the capacity of inheritors. ( And Malki-Tzedek King of Shalem
brought out bread and wine; and he was a priest to the Supreme God (14:18). Chazal had a
tradition that Malki-Tzedek was really Shem son of Noach (see Rashi), and that Shalem was
an earlier form of the name Jerusalem (see Targum Onkelos). The first part of the name was
added later on when Avraham called the place “HaShem Yir’eh” (BeReishit 22:14). (See
BeReishit Rabbah 56:10.) ( [God] said to him [Avram], “I am the Lord Who brought you out
of Ur-Kasdim to give you this Land to inherit it (15:7). Avraham Avinu deserved Eretz Yisrael
at the moment he sacrificed his life for the sanctification of God’s name in Ur-Kasdim. At
that time, HaShem vowed to give the Land to his descendants, as the verse says, I am the Lord
who brought you out of Ur-Kasdim to give you this Land to inherit it. Now, [this is puzzling,
for] Avraham was fifty-two years old at Ur-Kasdim, and this verse was said at the Brit Bein
HaBetarim, when he was already seventy years old! [The explanation is]: God was telling
him that from the time He took him out of Ur-Kasdim, He intended to give him the Land. It
was as if HaShem had vowed to give him the Land at that moment because of his self-sacrifice
to sanctify HaShem’s name. (Beit Elokim by the Mabit, quoted in Eim HaBanim Semeichah,
pp. 70-71) ( On that day, the Lord made a covenant with Avram, saying, “To your
descendants have I given this Land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates
River: the Kenite, the Kenizzite, the Kadmonite; the Hittite, the Perizzite, and the Rephaim;
the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Girgashite, and the Jebusite (15:18). To your descendants
have i given: [It is written in the past tense, because] the word of the Holy One Blessed be
He is like an accomplished fact. To the great river, the euphrates river: Since it is associated
with Eretz Yisrael, [the Torah] calls it “great,” even though it is the last of the four rivers
that issued from Eden… A popular adage says, “The servant of a king is a king,” [and]
“Stick with the captain and people will bow to you.” The Kenite: Ten nations are mentioned
here, but He only gave them [the territory of] seven nations. The three [remaining portions]
– Edom, Moab, and Ammon, which are the Kenite, the Kenizzite, and the Kadmonite – will
eventually become [Israel’s] possession in the future… (Rashi) ( Sarai, Avram’s wife, took
Hagar the Egyptian, her maidservant – after Avram had dwelled in the Land of Canaan for
ten years – and she gave her to Avram her husband, [to be] for him a wife (16:3) The
Talmud (Yevamot 64a) infers from here that a man who has failed to have children with his
wife after ten years of marriage should divorce her and try to fulfill the mitzvah of pru u’revu

(Be fruitful and multiply) with another woman. And since Avraham began counting the ten
years only after he entered Eretz Yisrael, our Sages declare that “Dwelling in Chutz LaAretz
does not count.” Rashi there comments, “The fact that [Avraham] did not marry [Hagar]
during the earlier years, before he came to the Land of Canaan… teaches that [the years of]
dwelling in Chutz LaAretz do not count, for perhaps they are barren due to the sin of
[dwelling] outside the Land.” In his commentary on the Chumash, however, Rashi
explains differently: “After avram had dwelled… This teaches that [the years of] dwelling in
Chutz LaAretz do not count, for he was not told, ‘I will make you into a great nation’ (12:2)
until he entered Eretz Yisrael.” The Ramban takes issue with this explanation (see the classic
commentators on Rashi for answers to the Ramban’s objections): This reason is incorrect, for
the halachah determines that dwelling in Chutz LaAretz does not count for anyone in the
world… Now, if [this law] is based on [God’s] promise to Avraham, [the years of dwelling in
Chutz LaAretz] would count for other people. Furthermore, other commentators made an
another mistake regarding this [issue]. They said that the law of divorcing a woman who has
not borne her husband children after ten years of marriage does not apply to one who lives
outside the Land, and he has no obligation to marry a different woman. This is not true.
Rather, the meaning is as follows: If a husband and wife live in Chutz LaAretz for five or ten
years and then come to the Land, we give them another ten years from the moment they
arrive; perhaps they will be built up [with children] in the merit of the Land… (Ramban) ( I
will give to you and to your descendants after you the Land in which you sojourn, the entire
Land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession, and I will be for them a God (17:8). As an
everlasting possession: And there I will be for them a God, but [a Jew] who dwells in Chutz
LaAretz is like one who has no God. (Rashi)For an explanation of this statement (which is
repeated many times in Chazal), see Parashat VaYeitzei, “The Palace of the King.”



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

On Key

Related Posts

Vayeitzei – HaRav Dov Begon

Jacob’s remarkable dream is the dream of the Jewish People which has accompanied us throughout all the generations, even in the most dark and difficult periods of our bitter and gloomy exile. In times of destruction, pogroms and the Holocaust, as well as today, Jews never ceased to believe in the fulfillment of Jacob’s dream and Hashem is still very much with us.

Vayeitzei – Rabbi Chanan Morrison

The rivalry between Rachel and Leah, the conflict between the beautiful present and the visionary future, also found expression in the monarchy of Israel. The temporary reign of Saul, a descendant of Rachel, struggled with the eternal dynasty of David, a descendant of Leah.

Israel and Islam – HaRav Eliezer Melamed

It is prohibited to teach Torah and mitzvot to Muslims, since they do not believe in the truth of the Torah, and there is concern that they will use what they learn for bad purposes and against Israel, as they used all the verses of rebuke in the Torah to increase hatred of Israel.