Avraham, the Anti-GPS

There are few used-to-be-novelties that have become as ubiquitous as the GPS. Embedded in all new cars and cell phones, the GPS has replaced difficult-to-fold bulky maps with clean and automated navigation systems. It tells us where we’re going, when we’ll get there, and how to avoid traffic on our way. But, in at least one way, the GPS presents a shift in our focus that may prove harmful in other situations.


The beginning of monotheism came in the form of a simple direction: “Go, for yourself, from your land… to a land that I will show you” (12:1). Hashem asked Avraham to uproot his family and leave his country, city and home, in the hopes of going to the land of Israel. The strange thing is, however, that Hashem never actually tells him more than “the land that I will show you”. Why the big secret? Say Israel! Furthermore, didn’t we already learn last week that Avraham was going to the land of Israel (11:31)?


Perhaps we can start to answer by asking another question: Why, if Avraham was setting out on this momentous journey to Israel, does he only stay there for 5 whole verses before leaving (12:5-9)? Sit down and relax, spend some time in the place G-d commanded you to go! Maybe the land of Israel -at this point- was not the sole purpose of his first journey. Of course, the ultimate goal of the journey -and the journey of the Jewish people- was and always is Israel. But -to put it in other words- Avraham’s first mission was not limited to a destination; it wasn’t contingent on a quantifiable task. Instead, the objective was the journey itself. The message of “Lech-Lecha” is not to complete any particular activity, but simply “to go”, to commit. 


Too often we get wrapped up in the GPS of life- accomplish this, accomplish that; reach this mile-marker, get to this destination. And for many things in life, that kind of goal-oriented attitude is very beneficial. But when it comes to Torah and mitzvot, “Hashem wants our hearts” (Sanhedrin 106b), not simply the accomplishment. To get started,  what’s important is the commitment to journey, not where the journey will take you.


The Ramban (12:3) asks why Avraham was chosen for this commandment, despite having no explicit credentials, like those of Noach (6:9). The Sfas Emes explains based on the Zohar that Hashem was actually asking of every person “Lech-Lecha”, but it was only Avraham who was willing to listen and accept the challenge, on his own initiative. There was no GPS telling him where to go, when he’d get there, and what he’d have to do on the way. For Avraham, and for us, what’s more important is that we want to journey in the first place.