Avraham's Aliyah


Two Moves?

The opening of Bereshit 12 speaks of Avraham's migration to Canaan:


(א) וַיֹּאמֶר י״י אֶל אַבְרָם לֶךְ לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ.

(ד) וַיֵּלֶךְ אַבְרָם כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אֵלָיו י״י וַיֵּלֶךְ אִתּוֹ לוֹט וְאַבְרָם בֶּן חָמֵשׁ שָׁנִים וְשִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה בְּצֵאתוֹ מֵחָרָן. (ה) וַיִּקַּח אַבְרָם אֶת שָׂרַי אִשְׁתּוֹ וְאֶת לוֹט בֶּן אָחִיו וְאֶת כׇּל רְכוּשָׁם אֲשֶׁר רָכָשׁוּ וְאֶת הַנֶּפֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ בְחָרָן וַיֵּצְאוּ לָלֶכֶת אַרְצָה כְּנַעַן וַיָּבֹאוּ אַרְצָה כְּנָעַן.

(1) Now Hashem said to Abram, “Get out of your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. (4) So Abram went, as Hashem had spoken to him. Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed out of Haran. (5) Abram took Sarai his wife, Lot his brother’s son, all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls whom they had gotten in Haran, and they went to go into the land of Canaan. Into the land of Canaan they came.

From these verses, it sounds as if the move was prompted by a Divine command which instructed Avraham to specifically leave his father's household behind and head to Canaan.  Yet, the end of Chapter 11 suggests that the migration of Chapter 12 was only the second stage of a process begun much earlier by Terach:


וַיִּקַּח תֶּרַח אֶת אַבְרָם בְּנוֹ וְאֶת לוֹט בֶּן הָרָן בֶּן בְּנוֹ וְאֵת שָׂרַי כַּלָּתוֹ אֵשֶׁת אַבְרָם בְּנוֹ וַיֵּצְאוּ אִתָּם מֵאוּר כַּשְׂדִּים לָלֶכֶת אַרְצָה כְּנַעַן וַיָּבֹאוּ עַד חָרָן וַיֵּשְׁבוּ שָׁם.

Terah took Abram his son, Lot the son of Haran, his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife. They went from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan. They came to Haran and lived there.

According to this verse, Avraham's father, Terach, appears to have already initiated a move to Canaan on his own.  What motivated him to uproot his family and head specifically to Canaan?  Were his incentives personal, or was his decision connected to the Divine directive recorded only later?

"מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ"

Hashem's words to Avraham, "לֶךְ לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ", appear to be an instruction to leave his land and birthplace behind.  However, the language of this command is troubling, as Avraham had already left his homeland of Ur Kasdim in the previous chapter.  Is this verse referring to an event which had previously occurred and told here out of chronological order?  Or, alternatively, could Avraham's birthplace be in a location other than Ur Kasdim?

Two other texts bear on the question of Avraham's birthplace, and they too make one wonder about its location:

  • In Bereshit 24, Avraham commands his servant to go "אֶל אַרְצִי וְאֶל מוֹלַדְתִּי".  The servant then heads to the Charan, the City of Nachor, suggesting that it, rather than Ur Kasdim, was Avraham's native land.
  • In Yehoshua 24, Yehoshua speaks of "עֵבֶר הַנָּהָר" as being the home of Terach and of Hashem bringing Avraham from there to Canaan.  What area is delineated by the phrase "עֵבֶר הַנָּהָר"?  Is it identical with Aram Naharayim and the region of Charan, or might it refer to Ur Kasdim?