Lech Lecha 5778


One of the many praises for the Jewish people is expressed in Shir Hashirim 7:2. “How beautiful are your footsteps in your shoes, the daughter of a nobleman.” The Gemara (Chagiga 3a) interprets this Pasuk as referring to the beauty of Klal Yisrael being Oleh Regel. The image of the nobleman, the Gemara continues, is a reference to Avraham Avinu, “the first Ger.” Rashi explains that the word used for “nobleman,” “נדיב”, can also mean to donate or dedicate. Avraham was the very first person to make the ultimate dedication to Hashem’s service – the first member of the Jewish nation, Hashem’s people.
What is it about the beauty of the thrice yearly pilgrimage that is somehow rooted in Avraham Avinu’s heritage? And why the reference to his becoming a “Ger”?
Just being in the Beis Hamikdash on the three Regalim was undoubtedly an intensely spiritual experience and an opportunity for tremendous spiritual growth. Of course, without making the trip to the Beis Hamikdash, it would be impossible to be there. However, there seems an emphasis in Chazal on the taking of the trip. For one, the Mitzvah is always referred to as עלייה לרגל, going up for the Regel, not “the Beis Hamikdash experience” or the like.
Second, the Gemara (Chagiga 3a) says that the word “Regel”, which literally means a set time, can be taken to allude to the regel, the foot, that takes one there. Hence, one who is too old or infirm to make the trip on his own two feet is exempt.
Finally, there is a phrase in the Rambam that many seforim have commented on. In Sefer Hamitzvos (Aseh 20), the Rambam discusses the Mitzvah of building the Beis Hamikdash. “He commanded us to build a house of service. In it shall be the sacrificing and the constantly burning fire, and to it will be the traveling for the Regel…” Besides mentioning the traveling as part of the Mitzvah, the Rambam seems to be saying that one of the functions of the Beis Hamikdash is to provide a spiritual place to travel to for the Regel.
The logical conclusion is that besides the sublime experience encountered in the Beis Hamikdash, the Torah specifically wanted every Jew to pick up and travel there. The lesson therein would appear to be that although Bnei Yisrael are constantly focused on bettering their Avodas Hashem and Kiyum Hamitzvos, sometimes working on themselves within their daily routine does not suffice. Sometimes, one must look for the opportunities available outside of his comfort zone. To truly seek out the available opportunities, three times a year one must pick up, break out of his familiar routines and surroundings, and actually travel to the place where there are even greater spiritual horizons yet to be discovered.
These are the beautiful steps which Klal Yisrael takes. The undertaking of the journey in pursuit of higher and greater levels is the lofty trait which originated at the very beginning of Klal Yisrael. Avraham Avinu lived in a world in which Hashem’s omnipotence was not even a thought. As the famous Midrash says, he refused to accept the norm of idol worship. He embarked on a personal journey to find Hashem on his own.
Indeed, all Geirim who leave their entire familiar surroundings to join Hashem’s people are in fact following Avraham’s noble example. Aliyah l’Regel is the Jew’s chance, even in his already intense spiritual life, to follow this example, to remind himself that he has never reached the top and there is always more room to grow if he cares to seek it out.
How fitting is it, then, that Hashem’s very first connection with Avraham and thereby with the Jewish people lies in the words “Lech Lecha.” This message perfectly encompasses the legacy that Avraham was to leave for his descendants, Bnei Yisrael.
It is never enough for one to simply step back and survey the growth opportunities available in his present surroundings. To become the Jew he was destined to be, he needs to break free from everything that had been his previous identity and journey to the Holy Land and ultimately to the Holy temple.


In his classic work Parshas Derachim, the Mishna Lemelech discusses the halachic status of the Avos. The fundamental question is, if and at what time did the Avos emerge from the status of Bnei Noach and enter the status of Bnei Yisrael? This is relevant to many of the Mitzvos and Halachos that are relevant to Bnei Yisrael only. It would appear that Avraham achieved the status of a Ben Yisrael after his Bris. Some posit that this might only be in regards to stringencies, but not in every aspect of his life.
In Parshas Lech Lecha (Bereishis 13:17), Hashem commanded Avraham Avinu, “Arise, walk about the entire land, its length and breadth.” The Gemara (Bava Basra 100a) derives from here that one can acquire land by working it in a normal manner. This method of acquisition is commonly known as Kinyan Chazaka. As such, Avraham Avinu acquired Eretz Yisrael through Kinyan Chazaka.
Rabbi Akiva Eiger, in his notations on the Parshas Derachim, writes that since the command occurred before the Bris, Avraham would still be considered a non-Jew. If so, according to the Rambam (Mechira 1:17), this form of acquisition is valid only for Jews, but does not take effect for non-Jews. By this logic, if Avraham Avinu was not a Jew until after his Bris Milah, then how was his Kinyan Chazaka effective?
The Dvar Avraham answers (vol. 1:10, 16) that even the Rambam would agree that a non-Jew can acquire ownerless land by means of Kinyan Chazaka. Eretz Yisrael, at that time, was considered to be Hefker. Therefore, Avraham Avinu was able to acquire it through Kinyan Chazaka, even though he technically was not Jewish (see Sefer Mili D’avos).
Hashem told Avram (Bereishis 15:13), “Know with certainty that your offspring will be aliens in a land not their own… for four hundred years.”
It is clear that Bnei Yisrael were not in Egypt for 400 years; rather, they were there for only 210 years. The Haggadah Shel Pesach says that Hashem shortened the sojourn in Egypt. How, then, was the promise that Avraham’s descendants would be aliens for 400 years fulfilled? The classic explanation is that the 400 years began with the birth of Yitzchak, who himself lived as an alien among the Canaanites and Plishtim.
R’ Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam, the Klausenberger Rebbe, suggests a novel interpretation of the verse. As stated above, earlier in the Parsha (Bereishis 13:17), Hashem said to Avram (Avraham), “Arise, walk about the land, its length and breadth! For to you I will give it.” The Aramaic translation, Targum Yonatan, explains that this walking was a Kinyan Chazaka, as was explained before.
Accordingly, Eretz Yisrael already belonged to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, and it was the Canaanites and the Plishtim who were the true aliens in the Land. Even so, Avraham later (Bereishis 23:4) refers to himself as an “alien” in the Land. Thus, the verse (Bereshis 15:13) can be read, “Know with certainty that your offspring will live as if they are aliens in a land not their own,” i.e., not belonging to the people who will exercise control over it (Haggadah Shel Pesach Halichot Chaim, p. 217).