Without any doubt, parshat Lekh-lekha – in which we encounter the first “oleh” (new immigrant to Israel), Avraham – may be defined as the start of practical Zionism. Generally, when we speak about Zionism, we refer to the belief that Eretz Yisrael should be ruled by Jews and that all Jews should live in the land. This being so, a “Zionist” act involves moving to Israel, or introducing Jewish control over additional areas of the land.
But our parsha also introduces another aspect of Zionism. After Lot separates from Avraham, the Torah tells us: “God said to Avraham, after Lot had separated from him: “Lift up your eyes and see…” – God then promises that Avraham and his descendants will inherit the land. The beginning of the verse appears clumsy and redundant: for what reason must the Torah emphasize this detail, which is already known to us – “after Lot had separated from him”? And what is its significance with regard to the rest of the verse?
Lot’s separation from Avraham is more than just geographical, and is prompted by more than merely financial considerations. According to the Midrash, the background to this parting is a moral difference of opinion. It involves negligence on the part of Lot, or his shepherds, in matters of respecting other people’s property. In proposing that they split up, Avraham expresses his dissatisfaction with the moral injustice that is taking place and his inability to live together with Lot because of his behavior.
The Torah wants to emphasize, by joining the first part of the verse – “After Lot had separated from him” – with the second part – the promise of the land, that the Divine gift of the land and the possibility of living in it is dependent upon the moral standard of Am Yisrael. If the nation does not take care to maintain an appropriate moral standard, the land will react by expelling them into exile.
We may say, then, that in addition to those actions that are generally regarded as “Zionist” endeavors – aliya and settling the land – we must add a Zionist command that is not less important, and which represents the basis for the existence of all other aspects: Be moral!
Hence the Zionist act does not end with the new immigrant stepping off the airplane, treading upon the ground of Eretz Yisrael, and settling permanently somewhere in the country. On the contrary – having done all of this, his Zionist endeavor is only just beginning! Every Jew living in the land of Israel must take care to behave in a moral way and to work on himself and on his environment from a moral point of view, thereby ensuring that the Jewish nation will be able to dwell in its land and work to complete the Zionist vision.