Leave Your Country For Your Own Good
It is written, “And the L-RD said to Abram, ‘Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you’ ” (Genesis 12:1). Commenting on this in the name of the Sages, Rashi states that the meaning is: “For your own benefit, for your own good. It is there that I will make you into a great nation, whereas here you will not merit having children. Also, I will make your character known to the world [Bereshith Rabba 39:2].”
Here we see that G-d promised great things to Abraham, contrary to the trial of Isaac’s sacrifice when He told him, “Take your son, your only one, whom you love…” (Genesis 22:2), without promising anything in return. We therefore need to understand the meaning of this trial to “Go for yourself from your land.”
The following questions arise:
1. Why did G-d command Abraham to leave Haran, since it was there that he succeeded in converting people and bringing them to a knowledge of G-d? Furthermore, he made everyone proclaim the Name of G-d. If such is the case, why did Abraham have to abandon his religious activities? If it was in order to receive his reward in Eretz Israel, we cannot say that this was a trial, since it was for his own benefit.
2. In addition, why is the narrative not in chronological order? It should have first stated, “From your father’s house,” followed by “from your relatives,” and then “from your land.” The commentators have already noted this inversion.
To explain this reversal in the logical order of the passage, the Sages have said: “If a man sees that his [evil] desire is conquering him, let him go to a place where he is unknown, don black and cover himself with black, and do as his heart desires” (Kiddushin 40a). Concerning this passage the commentators have stated: “One must not be mistaken and think that he will sin elsewhere, but rather that his black clothes will bring him to restrain his desires and repent” (Tosaphot in the name of Rabbeinu Chananel). The fact is that he will not be disturbed in a place where nobody knows him, and he will then be able to repent and correct himself, for no one will come to remind him of his past sins. It was the same for Abraham when G-d told him: “Go for yourself from your land,” for elsewhere – where no one knows you – you can progress better in your service of G-d, which is not the case here, close to evil King Nimrod and his entourage. You will not be able to serve G-d in the house of your father either, for there you are prevented from so doing. Even if you manage to overcome the pressure of these godless men, they will never appreciate your deeds.
Abraham did not hesitate for a moment. He immediately assembled his entire family and “the souls they made in Haran” (Genesis 12:5) – meaning all his followers – and quickly left in accordance with G-d’s command. Thus it is written, “So Abram went as the L-RD had spoken to him” (v.4), for G-d’s word is a commandment.
Here we see Abraham’s great piety and humility. In fact he could have remained pious, even among ungodly men, and overcome their influence and pressure for the rest of his life. This is especially true since all his deeds were motivated solely by his love for G-d, and he did not seek out fame or renown. Therefore he could have told himself that, in spite of the opposition of his surroundings, he was going to stay in his land without deviating from his chosen path. However Abraham did not ask any questions after G-d spoke to him. He immediately left Haran and headed in the direction of Eretz Israel, for he knew that if G-d commanded him to leave his land and his father’s house, He had His reasons.
The first reason was that, although Abraham knew that he did not have to fear the influence of his wicked environment, all those whom he and his wife Sarah had converted were not yet at that level. They were not yet at the point of being able to overcome the trials of their surroundings and the time, and they risked returning to their wicked ways if they stayed. Abraham had good reason to be concerned about this.
The second reason was that Abraham understood that his role was not to serve G-d secretly and in private, but on the contrary, in broad daylight – in plain view and full knowledge of all – so that everyone could witness his deeds. In fact this is exactly what he did, as the Rambam states: “His sole aim was to correct people from the error of their ways and to make them understand that there is but one Creator. It was to bring them to a knowledge of G-d” (Hilchot Akum 2:2-3).
Nevertheless Abraham had some questions: In a new land, would he also be able to convince people to believe in G-d, as he had done in Haran, especially since he did not know to which land G-d would lead him? This was a great trial for someone who, during his entire life, had fought for G-d in spite of the opposition he faced along the way. One must not forget that this was the time of the Tower of Babel, a time when peoples were dispersed as a punishment for having separated themselves from G-d and practiced idolatry. However Abraham withstood this trial because he knew that such was his duty at the time.
It was therefore a trial for Abraham to leave his land, and to him it constituted neither a kindness nor a benefit. He had succeeded in Haran, but would he also succeed in another land? What kindness or benefit would he gain in a strange land? Yet Abraham withstood this test, and if G-d says, “For your own benefit, for your own good,” one must do what He commands.
We now understand the order of the words in the verse (“from your land, from your relatives, and from your father’s house”). This order occurs because Abraham was busier outside the house than inside it, in the sense evoked by the statement: “Not study, but practice is the essential thing” (Perkei Avoth 1:17). Abraham was outside for the majority of his time. He was interacting with people and speaking to them, and his house had but secondary importance. This is why G-d first said, “your land,” since being outside in the land was essential to him. The phrase “your father’s house” was mentioned last because it was secondary to him. Without a doubt, that was the reason why this trial was so difficult, for he was attached to that place – to that land – and he wondered if he could ever succeed in a new land. Yet he withstood this trial, and G-d promised that he could continue his work in a new land.