Walk the Land for IGT

Genesis 13:17  “Stand up—walk through the land—the length of it and the breadth of it.”


Genesis 13:17 is my favorite Biblical commandment.  We are commanded to walk the land of Israel.  There are a lot of great commandments  that inspire and that fill one with meaning and joy—dwelling in the Sukah (Tabernacle), eating matzah to remember what it felt like to be a slave, reading Torah, lighting the lights of Chanukah, giving tzedakah (charity).  They are magnificent sacred obligations that often bring in their wake a deep sense of gratitude—even happiness.   But walking the land?  Now that is a commandment  that is hard to beat.

What is it about this commandment?  Maybe it’s like the “hokey pokey”—you put your whole self in.  You walk with your whole body and it is not just for a few minutes or hours (like sitting in a Sukah).  Maybe it’s the land itself.  There is a power and a magic in this land.  You can say that those of us who live here are victims of a compelling nationalistic romanticism but if you listen to what others have said who have been here you kind of have to wonder—why is this land so special?  Our tradition teaches that every clump of earth is “yetzir clapei shel hakadosh baruch hu” (made by the hands of the Holy One of Blessing).  And still THIS LAND pulls at so many people.

Maybe it’s because of where we came from.  Afterall, we got our start as a people by our grand- father Abraham being told to walk this land.  Genesis 12: God said to Avram—walk, walk from your land, from your birth place, and from the house of your father to the land that I will show you.    And I will make of you a great nation and will bless you and make your name great and you shall be a blessingI will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you, and through you shall all the families of the earth be blessed.  Avram walked as God spoke to him

Walking this land is tied up with our mission statement—you go be a blessing to the world.  What’s the story here?  Is it all about the land?  Is it about the walking?  It turns out that it’s about both.  We come from a walking tradition and we come from a tradition that has kept this land in our dreams and in our hearts.

Genesis 12:9 “Then Avram journeyed by stages toward the Negev (or: Avram traveled walking and traveling toward the Negev).”  The Hebrew is awkward.  What does it mean that Avram haloch ve-nasoa hanegba—he walked and traveled towards the Negev? Rashi, the great 11th century Bible commentator, gives us a startling answer: “By stages.  He stayed here a month or more, then traveled on and pitched his tent in another place, and all his journeys were towards the Negev…”  Rashi is telling us something about the spiritual journey of the first Jew.   Avram, soon to become Abraham, didn’t know where he was going.  Haloch ve-nasoa means he walked here and there.  He wandered.  He let his feet take him away.  He explored.  He ventured into unknown places.  He tried on different locations—all the time heading south and eventually ending up in the vicinity of Jerusalem (according to this Rashi).

Walking itself is a significant spiritual act. Rashi is teaching us that part of a spiritual journey is to take the opportunity to walk and wander—with an openness to where you might be led (“to the land that I will show you.”) Other sources will specify that our walking should be towards the Blessed Holy One.  Deuteronomy 13:5 “You should walk after the Eternal your God.”  Leviticus 22:3 “If only you would walk in My ways and keep My commandments and make them happen…”  Walking this precious earth that God gave us is a worthy endeavor and especially worthy is to walk in such a way that God’s Godliness is brighter and stronger in the world.

Abraham is not told to just walk. He is told to walk to the land that God will show him—which turns out to be the land of Israel.  What is it about this land that is so special—that makes walking here so special?  Here are some of my favorite answers to this question:

  1. The land is simply chosen by God—this makes it holy.
  2. This land is located where Europe, Africa, and Asia all come together—which means it really is the center of the ancient world. Being the center makes what happens here very important and influential.  If this “central land” could be a role model place, showing the world what OUGHT to be, that would be very powerful and place a huge opportunity and burden on the inhabitants.
  3. The land is where our ancestors came from. This is what makes it precious.  It is our story.  Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, Rachel, Leah, Jeremiah, Rabbi Akiva—they all walked here.  Leaders of many great faiths walked here.  Not only is it where the Jewish people we came from but it was the focus of their longing for 2,000 years in exile from her.
  4. The land is holy and unique. It is a land where if you don’t live up to high moral standards the land will expel you. (See Leviticus 18:24-30)

So it seems that this obligation of walking the land is a blending together of the holiness of the land and the holiness of walking.  The Zionist Movement embraced this commandment whole-heartedly.  To this day walking the land is a favorite Israeli pastime.   You are invited to walk the length and breadth of this land—through the Hazuri dry river bed, through the Tel Dan Reserve, the Zavitan Canyon, down the Arbel Cliff, among the springs between Givat Masua and Ein Yael, along the Golan Path, along the Banias River, through the Gilaboon Cayon, through Ein Gedi where King David used to hang out.  Walking this land can light up anybody’s spiritual life and that light is precious to us all.

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