God said to Abraham, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Bereishit12:1).
Egypt, Negev, Bethel,
Elonei Mamre, Dan, Hobah,
Emek Shaveh, Elonei Mamre,
Negev, Gerar, Land of the Philistines,
Mount Moriah, Beersheba, Kiriat Arba.
The journey of a thousand miles
starts with one step of faith,
as the caravan sets out steadily
under the desert blaze.
Toiling up breath-snatching inclines,
scrambling down dizzying slopes,
footsteps pressed in the sand
propelled to hidden destiny.
Heads bow as sandstorms swirl
dispersing mists of roiling specks,
chafing the skin, stinging the eyes,
obscuring the perilous path.
Scrutinising the landscape,
squinting through the glare,
asking the unanswered question,
seeking echoes in the silence.
Revelation dawns in exile:
the pull of the sacred cannot be denied.
In the book Abraham’s Journey: Reflections on the Life of the Founding Patriarch by Rabbi J.B. Soleveitchik*, he points out that we must not imagine that Abraham left Haran in the morning and arrived in Canaan in the afternoon. Instead, he wandered through many countries searching for a destination which had not been divulged. (It was about 600 miles from Ur to Haran and over 500 more miles from Haran to Canaan as measured on the map. This does not take into account mountain paths and tortuous ancient trails. The caravan might have covered 10-20 miles a day on a good day. The animals carried the baggage; the people walked. There was an ongoing need to find food and water for people and animals. There were human enemies and harsh weather conditions with which to contend.) Even after his arrival in Canaan, Abraham moved from place to place.
Rav Soleveitchik notes that God did not tell Abram the destination. Later, Abraham says, “And it came to pass when God caused me to wander (or get lost or go astray) from my father’s house…” (Bereishit 20:13). Rav Soleveitchik interprets this as God withholding guidance in order to allow Abram to search by himself. He says, “We often reach a major decision…not by thinking out logically the pros and the cons but by listening to our heart. ”
He teaches that every human being has a natural yearning to come close to God. The starting point for revelation and a relationship with God is to be found in spiritual displacement and flight from a familiar and comfortable existence. He says, “In order to behold God, one must go forth from his country and his ancestral home.”
*From the series MeOtzar HoRav, ed. D Shatz, JB Wolowelsky, R Ziegler.