If we were to make a list of the most influential figures in human history, Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu would appear at the top. It’s difficult to exaggerate the significance of the steps they take in Parshat Lech Lecha. They embark on a journey to the Land of Israel as the first olim chadashim, new immigrants, and in doing so pave the way for millions of Jews to do the same from then until today. We even celebrate it officially this week as Aliyah Day. In addition, they reject idolatry and initiate the monotheistic revolution, the belief in one God, and they establish the first Jewish home, a tent of loving-kindness and hospitality.
Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin writes that all the challenges Avraham overcame—all the tests he passed—have given us strength throughout the generations to overcome those same challenges and pass those same tests. So, too, regarding aliyah: “Every person’s sudden awakening to get up and make aliyah to the Holy Land has its source in the power of Avraham to meet the challenge of ‘Go forth from your land.’”
Ever since that first “Lech Lecha,” millions have continued to follow in the footsteps of Avraham. Among them were chassidim of the Baal Shem Tov, students of the Vilna Gaon, Jews of Yemen in Operation Magic Carpet, the pioneers before the founding of the State, the Jews of Iraq in Operation Ezra and Nehemiah, immigrants from East and West after the founding of the State, Jews from the former Soviet Union after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Jews from Ethiopia in Operation Moses, Jews from the United States through Nefesh B’Nefesh, Jews from France and many others.
This is an unprecedented phenomenon in world history: A people scattered in every direction, to the furthest corners of the earth, stays faithful to a single piece of land and ultimately returns to it after 2000 years.
Keeping in mind the enormous steps that they took, it is strange to then realize that nowhere is it written exactly why these two people were chosen for this mission.
In his book “Dibur Matchil” (Speech Begins), Rabbi Avinadav Abucarat offers a fascinating explanation. Why was Avraham chosen? Why exactly him? Avraham heard grandiose pronouncements about his future simply because he had the capacity to hear them. There is an inner voice that speaks to every man and woman, but most people refuse to listen and run away from their mission. Avraham heard the calling of Lech Lecha. He succeeded in quieting all other voices, all external distractions, all the seductive temptations and enslaving notions that surrounded him, meriting a clear and radiant vision. Instead of getting lost in a world full of confusion, Avraham understood the whole story and became the first Jew, the first oleh chadash, the first believer.
Rabbi Nachman of Breslav wrote: “Every person in the world has a ‘Lech Lecha’ that calls on him to go to himself. ‘Lech Lecha’—go to yourself, into the source of your soul.”
Sivan Rahav-Meir is the World Mizrachi Scholar-in-Residence and an Israeli journalist and lecturer.