The command that God gives to Abram is interesting. It says:
לֶךְ־לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ֜ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֝ וּמִבֵּ֤ית אָבִ֞יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֝רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֜ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ:
“Go to the land that I will show you.”
Nachmanides notes that Abram was not told what the destination was supposed to be. God was, in essence, telling him to follow his nose and, somehow, he would end up in the right place. Not a great way to plan any kind of trip. When he got to Canaan, Nachmanides says that Abram heard this verse:
יֵרָ֣א יְהוָהֶ אֶל־אַבְרָ֭ם וַיֹּ֮אמֶר לְזֶַרְעֲךָ֭ אֶתֵּ֝ן אֶת־הָאָ֤רֶץ הַזֹּ֞את
‘The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “I will assign this land to your heirs.”‘
It was only then that Abram settled there.
But the question remains: why did God not show him the land right away? What was the secret? Why the mystery?
Rashi, the great commentator, cites a midrash that says, “UNTO THE LAND THAT I WILL SHOW THEE: why did He not reveal it to him [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][there and then]? In order to make it more beloved in his eyes and to reward him for every step he took….And why did He not reveal it to him [without delay]? In order to make him even more beloved in his eyes and reward him for every word spoken.” In other words, by not telling Abram where he was going, the Land would be more beloved to him and he could be rewarded for each and every step he took. The journey without a known endpoint enhanced Abram’s anticipation of the place and the journey itself brought with it its own reward.
There is great wisdom in this, I think. There are times when we need concrete goals. Some go to law school so they can work as a lawyer. Some spend thousands of hours in the studio so they can be great dancers. There is value in knowing where you are going and knowing what it takes to get there. But there is also value in taking the journey without knowing where it will lead. The Australians call it a ‘walkabout’ and Jews call it ‘lishma’ – doing something for its sake only. If a reward comes, all the better. But even if there is no reward, there is still joy.
Unfortunately, there is not so much appreciation for doing things for their own sake. In one fashion or another we are often asked, “Why are you wasting your time doing that?” or “What good will that do you?” Ours is a results-oriented society and if there can be no results, there is often no value ascribed to the journey.
A few years ago, some astronomers did something radical that was questioned by many other established astronomers. They focussed the Hubble Telescope to a patch of space that appeared to have nothing in it. Just for fun they allowed the light to collect on the lens of the telescope for a couple of weeks. Keep in mind that even getting a couple of hours on the Hubble is a coup for scientists. No great discovery was expected. But what they discovered was astounding.
In the patch of sky black to all other forms of light more that 3000 galaxies appeared that simply came out of nowhere. It was an astounding discovery and called the “Hubble Deep Field.” Over the course of the next couple of years, more pictures were taken and an astonishing 10,000 other galaxies (not stars!) were discovered in what became known as the “Hubble Ultra Deep Field.”
It is astonishing how much each of us can find if we take the time to look for its own sake. Abram heard a voice and began a journey that culminated in the birth of the Jewish people and did not know where he was going at first. He did not wake up one morning and decide to begin a new faith. His journey step by step led him, and all of us, to Sinai.
For each of us, a moment of revelation awaits somewhere. We will never find it being couch potatoes. We may find it in our journeys of discovery lishman – for their own sake.