Lech Lecha 5779

The unknown destination[1]

ואמר יקוק אל-אברם לך-לך מארצך וממולדתך ומבית אביך אל-הארץ אשר אראך
Hashem said to Avram: “Go for yourself from your land, from your birthplace, from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you”[2]

This week’s parsha contains the first record of Hashem interacting with Avraham, our forefather[3]. It was a command for him to leave everything behind, and to travel to the (future) land of Israel. This land was for his future descendants to inherit as their own. This was considered one of Avraham’s ten tests[4], which he passed successfully. He had to abandon his entire family, save for his wife Sarah and nephew Lot[5]. Avraham, who was the pillar of chessed, lovingkindness, could be accused of neglecting to take care of his aging father[6]. Nevertheless, he followed the word of Hashem.

When Hashem presented this command, He was very specific about from where Avraham should be leaving. He listed Avraham’s homeland, his birthplace, and his father’s house. However, Hashem was very vague as to where Avraham would be going. Why didn’t Hashem tell him that his destination was the land of Israel? Rashi brings[7] two explanations: to endear the land of Israel in his eyes, and to give him reward for each and every step he takes[8]. The Steipler Gaon says that we can learn two amazing insights into human psychology from this statement of Rashi.

Rashi says that because Hashem didn’t reveal where Avraham was going, the land of Israel became very dear to him. This teaches us that if a person searches long and hard for something, not knowing how to reach their goal, they will feel tremendously appreciative when they finally achieve it. This appreciation develops into a strong endearment towards their goal; more so than if they had achieved it right away. For example, a person who works very hard to understand what they are studying, will appreciate the resolution much more than a person who understood it right away. This appreciation creates tremendous joy. Since people tend to remember better things that made them happy, this joy will help them retain the information for a much longer time. So too with Avraham and the land of Israel. This was all part of Hashem’s plan by hiding Avraham’s final destination from him.

Rashi also says that because Hashem didn’t reveal to Avraham where he was going, this gave him reward for every step that he took. We learn from this that had Avraham known where he was going, he wouldn’t have received as much reward. Why not? If Avraham had known where he was headed, he would have had the tiniest hint of self-interest in his journey. Knowing he was headed to a place of tranquility, each step he took would have been slightly lacking in its altruism. However, since Avraham didn’t actually know where he was going, every step he took was entirely for the sake of Heaven. He was only doing it because Hashem told him to; without the slightest hint of self-interest. This gave him great reward for his efforts. Hashem withholding this information was a tremendous chessed for Avraham, ensuring that he would get the maximum reward for following the command.

We can take this information and apply it to our own lives. Whenever something doesn’t come easy to us, we should know that it’s an opportunity. Hashem is giving us the chance to have a greater connection with our goal than we might even realize. As well, it’s not easy following Hashem’s Will for entirely altruistic reasons. However, every bit of self-interest that we can remove will correspondingly increase our reward. It’s not all-or-nothing, and surely within our grasp.

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Birkas Peretz parshas Lech Lecha

[2] Genesis 12:1

[3] See Ohr HaChaim ad. loc.

[4]Rashi” to Avos 5:3, citing Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer Chapter 26; Avos D’Rabbi Nosson, Machzor Vitri, Rambam, Rabbeinu Yonah, Rabbeinu Bachaye, Meiri ad. loc. Magen Avos by the Rashbatz ad. loc. says that everyone agrees that this was one of his ten tests

[5] Genesis 12:5

[6] See Rashi to ibid 11:32

[7] To ibid 12:1, quoting Bereishis Rabbah 39:9. See the following note

[8] Bereishis Rabbah loc. cit. However, Rashi says לתת לו שכר על כל דיבור ודיבור. I don’t know why he changes it from על כל פסיעה ופסיעה