Rabbi Emanuel Cohn
Former Avrech in Montreal (2001-2003)
Founder of “Torah MiCinema” – Teaching Film and Judaism


This Shabbat we celebrate the third Parsha of the Torah: Lech Lecha. Abraham (actually: Abram) is being told by God to leave hisland, his birth-place and his father’s house, to the land that He will show him. When I was told to write something about this Parsha I was kindly given a subtle hint to speak about Aliyah (moving to Israel). However, I have many personal flaws. One of them is the result of the mixture of my yekish origin and my Israeli identity: I am stubborn and I do things davka! So since I was told to write about Aliyah, I‘ll do the opposite… Let’s talk about Yeridah (leaving Israel)! My theme is not far-fetched. Indeed, our Parsha opens with the bombastic overture of Abraham leaving Charan in order to follow God’s word and “immigrate” into the Landof Canaan. But most of the people do not realize that only ten (!) verses later we read about a sudden anti-climax: “There was a famine in the land. Abram went down into Egyptto live as a foreigner there, for the famine was severe in the land.” What is going on? Isn’t this the proudly proclaimed Parsha of Aliyah? Weren’t we taught at the Kollel that the first Religious Zionist was not Herzl nor Rav Kook, but Abraham Avinu? That’s it?! One little famine and you leave the Holy Land? You transgress God’s plan? You give up all your ideals and ideologies?

We are not the first ones to raise our eyebrows concerning Abraham’s behaviour: Ramban (Nachmanides) views Abraham’s decision to leave the Holy Land as a failure: “…By leaving the land which he had been commanded to live in, even if there was a famine, Abraham had sinned because God would have saved him from death in the famine.” Not only does Ramban criticize Abraham for his wrong conduct, but he even sees it as the shocking cause for later historic developments: “By leaving the Landof Israel Abrahamsealed the fate of his offspring to live in exile in Egyptunder Pharaoh!” (Based on the concept “Maase Avot Siman laBanim”, the father’s actions are a sign to their children.)

As we all know, Abraham did not stay for good in Egypt. Another ten verses after Abraham’s Yeridah, we read about the Happy End:“Pharaoh commanded men concerning him, and they sent him away…into the South [of Israel].” When I read these verses, the first thought which crossed my mind was what a great sense of humour the Torah has! Indeed, when God sends Abraham to Israel, the latter leaves the land soon thereafter. But when the wicked goy Pharaoh makes him leave the Diaspora, then Abraham stays in the Holy Landfor good… (Some cynicists would remark on this that when a Jew makes Aliyah based on divine, sublime motivations, full-packed with blue & white ideology, then in many cases the stay in the Zionist entity won’t last for long. But when a Jew leaves the Diaspora because of Anti-Semitism (Pharaoh!), there might actually be a chance that he will settle for good in the Holy Land… In brackets I recall my cousin’s idea that instead of supporting Zionist Kollels, one should support anti-Semitic movements in the Diaspora! Of course I disagree with this theory – and not only because I am a former employee of Kollel Torah Mitzion…- but it is nevertheless thought-provoking.)

Let us try tocompare the two “Aliyoth” of Abraham, the one from Charan initiated by God, and the one from Egypt“pushed” by Pharaoh. I would like to focus only on one major difference: Regarding the first Aliyah it says that “Abram went, as God had spoken to him, and Lotwent with him.