Parshat Lech Lecha

Translations of kabbalistic texts are by Rabbi Larry Tabick, The Aura of Torah. Translations of the Torah and other commentaries are from Sefaria, except where otherwise noted.

Bereishit 12:1

The LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”


Get yourself out, literally, go for yourself: for your own benefit, for your own good.

Rabbi Simchah Bunam of Pshische, early 19th century

He said: “Go for yourself” [which really means] “for yourself.” The meaning is that each person should test themselves to see if their ways may be improved. Furthermore, there is another intention in this verse, which is well known to those with understanding: its meaning is that each person must sense for themselves what level they are on and [whether] they need to do anything.

Bereishit 13:17

“Up, walk about the land, through its length and its breadth, for I give it to you.”

Rabbenu Bachya, 13th century

According to the plain meaning, the Holy One wanted Abraham to take possession of the Holy Land …

But according to seichel, [you should note that] the phrase “walk about” is mentioned with respect to wisdom, as it is written: “When you walk about, it shall lead you” (Proverbs 61:22) … This refers to the mind, which is only mentioned in relation to singular righteous people from among those who seek wisdom, namely, Noah, Enoch, Abraham, and the like.

Because Abraham moved his consciousness from one level to the next in his search for wisdom, and allowed his mind to go back and forth in attainment of that which the “south” contains, the blessed God said, “Up, walk about the land,” as if to say, “Let your consciousness move about in seeking those things that exist in the land,” for we do not find that Abraham [actually] went about the length and breadth of the land, but we do find that he “dwelt” and did not [literally] “go,” [as] it is written: “Abram took down his tent, went and dwelt [in the plain of Mamre]” (Genesis 13:18). Thus, this “going” was a movement of the intelligent soul, accompanied by the quietness of the body … for the seeking of wisdom requires movement of the intelligent soul and quietness of the body; this is the opposite of the needs of the body, which require movement of the body but quietness of the soul. So [God] said: “I will give it to you” [meaning] “I will give you knowledge and wisdom so that you may know the essence of [all] that exists. In a similar vein, it is written: “And the Eternal gave wisdom to Solomon” (1 Kings 5).

Rabbi Tabick says that the “south” refers to chesed.

Bereishit 17:1

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am El Shaddai. Walk in My ways and be blameless.”

Rashi, translation:

“Walk before me and be perfect.”

Robert Alter, translation:

“Walk in My presence and be blameless.”

Mordechai of Chernobyl, early 19th century

Founder of the Twersky Hasidic dynasty

In order to understand the expression “[walk] in My presence,” [we have to appreciate] that according to its plain meaning it refers to the aspect of [God as] enveloping, that is, that you should trust with complete faith that the light of the Infinite envelops and surrounds you on all sides, in the sense of “filling all worlds and surrounding all worlds,” and as Scripture says, “Whoever trusts in the Eternal is surrounded by lovingkindness” (Psalm 32:10). And when that is so, then, as it were, you walk “in God’s presence.” Then, in this way, you can “be perfect.” Occasionally, you may fall and be battered; nevertheless, when you constantly adhere to this trust, you may return and be made perfect and whole [once more].

Rebbe Mordechai is linking three concepts we are familiar from Mussar — chesed (lovingkindness), bitachon (trust), and schleimut (wholeness). How does that work?