At the end of Parashat Noach we find Avram and his family making a momentous decision: to leave Ur Kasdim and move to the Land of Canaan. This decision came in the aftermath of the fierce confrontation between Avram and the all-powerful emperor Nimrod. Avram, who represented monotheism, ethics, and justice, stood up alone against Nimrod, who represented blasphemy, wickedness, and aggression. Avram won the spiritual and the physical battles because of Hashem’s direct intervention, as He Himself saved Avram from a great furnace.
The Midrash (Shemot Rabba, Bo 18) reports that the angels Michael and Gavriel wanted to save Avram from the furnace, but Hashem argued with them, saying that since Avram was acting to glorify His name and not theirs, He should go Himself to save Avram. This open miracle strengthened the belief of many, who followed Avram’s leadership and joined a group of tens of thousands of monotheists (Rambam).
Why, at this point, would Avram go to the Land of Canaan of all places, as we would think that this was a place he should avoid? After all, Nimrod was a son of Kush, the oldest son of Cham, Noach’s wicked son (see Bereishit 10:6-8 and Divrei Hayamim I, I:8-10). Canaan was Cham’s younger son. Why would one "switch a cow with a donkey"? Why run away from a prominent son of Cham and go to the land of the descendants of the son of Cham who was a direct participant in his father’s great sin against his father, Noach? Note that Canaan’s involvement is the reason that Noach invoked the name of Canaan when cursing Cham (Bereishit 9:22-27). It was for rejecting Cham’s actions that Shem, Avram’s progenitor, was so rewarded (ibid.).
When we look at the results, we do not find, at that point in history, any significant results of Noach’s blessing and curse. The all-powerful strongman in the world was Nimrod, Cham’s grandson. Canaan’s family was firmly in control of the Promised Land. Their conquests were at the expense of Shem’s descendants, who should have been the blessed ones who inherited the Land (see Rashi to Bereishit 14:18, who talks of Malkitzedek (=Shem) as the theoretical king of the region but not the actual one).
Avram and his family decided to move to the Land of Canaan to support Malkitzedek. In other words, he decided to move the battleground of the spiritual fight against the heretics to the Land of Israel, which was still called the Land of Canaan. This was the beginning of a long struggle for the Land, for which the saying "The Land of Israel is acquired through pain" is very appropriate.
We have merited in our generation to take an active role in the mitzva to settle Eretz Yisrael. "The Land of Israel is pure and its mikvaot are pure" – it is a merit to turn the Land of Canaan into the Land of Israel. Let us pray that we will merit being the followers of Avraham Avinu in all aspects.