G‑d said to Avram, "Go [further] away—for your [own benefit]—from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father's house, to the land which I will show you.

-- Breshis 12:1

Classic Questions

When did G‑d tell Avraham to "Go away... from your land... to the land which I will show you"? (v. 1)

Ibn Ezra: At the end of Parshas Noach, we read, "Terach took Avram his son, Lot... and Sarai... and they went out... from Ur Kasdim to go to the land of Cana'an" (11:31). Obviously, G‑d's command here in Parshas Lech Lecha to "go... to the land which I will show you" must have occurred prior to their departure, recorded earlier in Parshas Noach. This does not pose a difficulty because the Torah was not written in chronological order (11:31).

Ramban: Terach left Ur Kasdim with his family, not due to a command from G‑d, but rather to flee from danger. Terach was terrified of King Nimrod, who had killed his son Haran and attempted to kill Avraham too.

Our verse here in Parshas Lech Lecha is thus the first time that Avraham was commanded to go to the land of Cana'an (11:28).

Rashi: G‑d told Avraham to "go away... from your land." But surely he had already gone out of there with his father and come as far as Charan (see 11:31)? Rather, G‑d was saying to him, "Distance yourself even more from there, and leave your father's house."

The Rebbe's Teachings

Avraham's Departure (v. 1-5)

The Torah states, "Avram took Sarai, his wife, and Lot, his brother's son, and all the possessions which they had acquired... They departed, heading for the land of Cana'an. They arrived at the land of Cana'an" (v. 5).

A number of points require clarification here:

  1. Obviously, the fact that "they arrived at the land of Cana'an" indicates that they "departed, heading for the land of Cana'an." Why did the Torah repeat this detail? If we were told just that "they arrived at the land of Cana'an," we would have understood that this was their destination to start with.

  2. Avraham and his family had already begun heading for Cana'an a while earlier, as we read at the end of Parshas Noach, "Terach took Avram his son, Lot... and Sarai... and they went out... from Ur Kasdim, to go to the land of Cana'an" (11:31). Thus, the only point that is added here in Parshas Lech Lecha is that "they arrived at the land of Cana'an." Why are we told here again that "they departed, heading for the land of Cana'an" (v. 5)?

  3. G‑d told Avraham, and not Terach, to "go away from your land" (v. 1). Why, then, did Terach also leave "Ur Kasdim to go to the land of Cana'an" (11:31)?

  4. Finally, why does Rashi—who aims to explain every problem at the literal level—fail to address the above points?

The Explanation: Two Distinct Journeys

On the verse, "Haran died during the lifetime of his father Terach" (11:28), Rashi writes:

"The Midrash teaches us that he died on account of his father. For Terach complained to Nimrod that Avraham had crushed his idols, so Nimrod cast Avraham into a fiery furnace. Haran sat and thought, 'If Avraham is victorious, I am on his side, and if Nimrod is victorious, I am on his side.' When Avraham was saved, they said to Haran, 'Whose side are you on?' Haran said to them, 'I am on Avraham's side!' They cast him into the fiery furnace and he was burned."

Having described these events in detail, Rashi considered it unnecessary to explain why "Terach took Avram his son... and they went out... from Ur Kasdim to go to the land of Cana'an," since he was quite obviously fleeing from Nimrod. How could Terach possibly remain in a country whose king had killed one of his sons, and almost tried to kill the other (c.f. Ramban)?.

The reason why Terach headed for Cana'an in particular is also self-understood, since Terach was a descendant of Shem (see above 11:10-26), and Rashi writes that the land of Cana'an "fell into Shem's share when Noach apportioned the land to his sons" (Rashi on 12:6).

Nevertheless, the Torah relates that Terach and his family never arrived at their destination, but rather, when, "they reached as far as Charan," they changed their plans and "settled there" instead (11:31).

Since their original plan to go to Cana'an had been abandoned, it follows that Avraham's trip to Cana'an in our parshah was a totally new event. Therefore, the Torah writes again that "Avram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions... and they departed" (v. 5).

And since their last trip to Cana'an was aborted, the Torah informs us that this time, they completed their journey and "arrived at the land of Cana'an."

How Did Avraham Know Where to Go?

An additional problem is that G‑d told Avraham to go "to the land which I will show you," without specifying any particular place. How did Avraham know to go to Cana'an?

Ohr haChayim answers that G‑d did tell Avraham where to go, but the Torah fails to relate this fact. However:

  1. At the literal level of Torah interpretation, we cannot assume that events occurred unless they are recorded explicitly.

  2. Rashi makes no mention of this point.

We therefore require a solution that is either:

  1. So obvious that Rashi did not need to mention it.

  2. A solution indicated by an earlier comment of Rashi.

The answer to this problem can be found in the above explanation that Terach headed for Cana'an because it, "fell in Shem's share when Noach apportioned the land to his sons," and Avraham's father, Terach, was a descendant of Shem. Thus, in the absence of any specific directions from G‑d—other than to "go [further] away... from your father's house"—Avraham continued the family migration towards Cana'an, which had previously stopped in Charan.

On reaching Cana'an, Avraham did not stop traveling, since he received no sign that this was his final destination. Thus, we read that "Avram traveled through the land" (v. 6).

However, on reaching Shechem, G‑d appeared to Avraham, and He said, "I will give this land to your descendants!" (v. 7). I.e., G‑d "showed" the land to Avraham.

At that point, Avraham knew that this was the destination which G‑d had in mind when He had said, "Go [further] away—for your [own benefit]—from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father's house, to the land which I will show you."

(Based on Sichas Shabbos Parshas Lech Lecha 5745)