Avraham has been doing a lot of walking. “Lech Lecha MeiArtzecha,” “Go forth from your land” (BeReishit 12:1); he walks from Charan (originally even from Ur Kasdim) to Eretz Kena’an. He walks through the land to Shechem and then to Beit El. He walks down south. A famine strikes the land and he walks down to Mitzrayim. He stays there for just long enough to have a run-in with Par’oh and then he walks back to Israel. He walks up north to Beit El.
If we are tired out by all of Avraham’s movements at this point, we can only imagine how tired he is! We let out a sigh of relief when, at last, Avraham settles down in Eretz Kena’an – ready to take a well-deserved vacation! Perhaps the last thing Avraham wants is a command from God to get up and walk through the entire land, width and length. Why then, at this point, does Hashem demand, “Kum Hit’haleich BaAretz LeOrkah ULeRochbah,” “Arise and walk through the land, its length and breadth” (13:17)?
Many Mefarshim, perhaps sympathetic to Avraham’s knees, say that this Pasuk is not meant to be fulfilled immediately, but rather to be completed at some point in the future. Ramban suggests that God may be simply granting Avraham permission to traverse the land as he wishes, promising protection from any adversaries he may face. In this way, Avraham can exert ownership over a land that does not legally belong to him and still control his own destiny within it. Even if, Ramban claims, the goal of the command is to provide Avraham with the method through which he will legally acquire the land, this is neither meant to be a lifelong mission for Avraham nor something that need be completed the next morning.
In a comment laden with historical implications, the Netziv argues that this Pasuk was not even intended to be fulfilled during Avraham’s lifetime. The first time Avraham was promised the land, when Hashem said, “LeZar’acha Etein Et HaAretz HaZot,” “I will give this land to your children” (12:7), according to the Netziv, reflects the method of acquisition that would typify the conquest of the land in the time of Yehoshua. At that time there was no need for the Jewish people to act in natural ways; the land was simply given freely to them. The Jews did not have to build settlements and homes, but instead settled in those already available for them. In contrast, the second and third times the Jews have returned to the land, one of their first priorities has been and will be to build up the basic infrastructure of the land, reflecting this command.
These approaches of Ramban and Netziv are validated by the next Pasuk, “VaYe’ehal Avram VaYavo VaYeishev BeEilonei Mamrei,” “And Avram moved into his tent, and he came and dwelled in the plains of Mamrei,” clearly indicating he did not traverse the land. Nevertheless, they still leave us wondering why God feels the need to let Avraham know specifically now, after he finally settles down, that either he or his children are still going to have to do a lot more walking! Perhaps God is specifically responding to Avraham’s first attempt to be “Yosheiv,” to settle down, with a command that confirms and highlights the importance of Avraham continuing to be a “Holeich,” one who walks. While he may choose to settle or simply “sit down” for a bit, Avraham and his children must always be walkers.
What defines someone as a “Holeich” as opposed to a “Yosheiv?” Rav Hirsch explains that the Hebrew root ה.ל.כ. (walk) is similar to ח.ל.ק. (separate). On one level, Halichah, walking, describes separating from something or arguing with it. Someone who, like Avraham, is a “Holeich,” is willing to walk away from ideas, people, or cultures that counter his values and beliefs. As much as Avraham attempts to influence the world around him, he also knows how to walk away from those who obstinately refuse to hear his words and learn about his values.
Furthermore, it is interesting to note that most of the times the Torah describes Avraham’s travels, it does not explain why Avraham left his original location, nor why he chose to stop where he did. The emphasis seems to be placed on the process of walking and movement, instead of where he is coming from and where he is going. As a “Holeich,” Avraham is someone who recognizes the value of constantly moving. He does not focus on reaching a particular goal so that he can stop to applaud his own achievements and celebrate his success. Avraham instead recognizes that the goal of an Oveid Hashem is to live a life of constant movement and activity, seeking out new challenges and opportunities for growth. It is this attitude that ultimately enables him to prevail over the various Nis’yonot presented to him as he moves.
The world around us emphasizes the importance of everything being “user friendly.” Consumers look for products that will be the easiest and most comfortable for them to use, and we often follow suit by searching for the most “user friendly” ways to deal with our challenges. As parents who want our children to be comfortable, we seek to protect them from situations where they might fail or make mistakes. This is a culture of “Yoshevim.” As Bnei Avraham, we must find ways to encourage ourselves and our children to embrace challenge instead of running away from it. We must learn from God’s reminder to Avraham when he attempts to settle down that we must continuously walk the walk of Ovdei Hashem – “Kum HitHaleich BaAretz!”