The expression Lech Lecha is not the only directive with which Hashem directs our forefather Avraham to embark on a journey to the unknown. It is also the command used later to direct Avraham to the Moriah to offer up his only son, Yitzchak (Bereishith 22:2) But what does this expression mean?
Abravanel explains that Lech Lecha means to go it alone; become an individual, forge an identity removed and distinct from those norms and ideas with which your birthplace, your family and your home were associated (see also Prof. Cassuto). In the “Land that I will show you,” Avraham will plant the seeds of a unique people who will have an impact on world history out of all proportion to their numbers and situation, a People who will carry a message to all the nations on earth. The crucibles to which Avraham is subjected are all intended to stimulate his individualism and make him the patriarch of this great nation.
But this land “that I will show you”… where is it? And when does Hashem show it?
“And Hashem said to Avraham after Lot separated from him: ‘Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, to the northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see – I will give it to you and to your offspring, forever” (Bereishith 13:14-15; see Ibn Ezra Bereishith 12:1, Rashash Avoth 5:3).
True, in Bereishith 12:7, when Avraham makes camp near Shechem, Hashem promises to give “this land” to Avraham’s descendants – but He does not say anything about Avraham and does not show him the Land, until Avraham and Lot separate and go their own ways.
Since the mysterious “Land that I will show you” is not revealed until verse (Bereishith 13:14), it follows that earlier on, Avraham’s going to Egypt in the face of famine in the Land of Canaan (Bereishith 12:10) was not in any way a failure on his part (Rashash ibid.; cf. Ramban). Avraham had not been commanded to go to Canaan. His family had set out in that direction but settled instead in Charan (Bereishith 11:31). He was commanded to go to the “Land which I will show you”, and having no real clues as to the identity of this secret land, Avraham simply continued towards the land of Canaan, in the hope that eventually he would discover the intended destination (Rashash ibid.).
When Avraham insists that Lot and he must part ways (Bereishith 13:9), and Lot chooses to reside in Sodom – whose inhabitants were notoriously wicked – only then does Hashem actually show the Land to Avraham and promise it to him and to his descendants (Bereishith 13:14-15; see Rashi v. 14). In this trial, Avraham has to choose between family (Lot) and morals. Should he tolerate Lot’s stealing (see Rashi Bereishith 13:7), or should he insist that in his society such behavior is unacceptable? Lot, after all, was his nephew (Bereishith 11:27) who had accompanied him all the way from Ur Kasdim (ibid. v.31) and was the last blood relative in his vicinity. Couldn’t Avraham find some way to justify stealing from the natives?
But Avraham had been commanded to “go it alone”, to become an individual, to be a blessing to all mankind. And so Avraham fulfilled the commandment, and insisted that Lot depart. And thereupon, the mystery was resolved, and the “land which I will show you” was revealed to him, and promised to him and to his descendants.
And we, the descendants of Avraham, must strive like him to build a model society in the Holy Land given us by Hashem, a moral, just and G-dly society, whose message will reverberate around the globe, until the whole world is united in the Kingdom of Hashem: One people in one land under one G-d.