"Abram then continued on his way, moving steadily toward the south." (Gen. 12:9)

...this refers to the spiritual process of "running and returning"...

Moving steadily: Or, literally, "going and traveling." Allegorically, this refers to the spiritual process of "running and returning" (ratzo vashov - see Ezek. 1:14), the two interdependent yet opposing thrusts that must constantly and successively occur in order for life to continue and for physical and spiritual growth to take place. For example, the Divine energy that animates the world from within naturally seeks to escape the confines of the finite world and cleave to its source. But as soon as it does so, it complies again with God's will and returns to its task of animating physical reality, only to seek once more to ascend to its source. Similarly, in its yearning to cling to its source, the soul leaves the body, but as soon as it does so it immediately returns to continue with its mission. This constant spiritual oscillation is reflected in the physical pulsation of the heart and lungs.

Our mission to unite heaven and earth must also comprise both "running and returning," separating ourselves periodically from the mundane world by losing ourselves in meditation, prayer, or Torah study, yet always returning to the world to fulfill our mission. Abram, too, served God in this way, "going and traveling," "running and returning."

...the south signifies warmth and kindness.

Toward the south: Metaphorically, the south signifies warmth and kindness. Accordingly, Abram's "moving steadily toward the south" meant that he was steadily intensifying his enthusiastic, warm love for God as well as increasing in acts of kindness to others. Ultimately, through his universal acts of kindness, he "replaced" the Divine attribute of kindness itself, which said to God, "My job has become superfluous—-Abram has taken my place!" (see Sefer HaBahir 191)

In truth, Abram did a better job than did the attribute of kindness: When the attribute of kindness shows kindness to the undeserving, it corrupts them further. When Abram, on the other hand, showed kindness to the undeserving, he was able to rehabilitate them and redirect their focus to God.

Adapted from Sefer HaMa'amarim 5699, p. 86 and ibid. 5702, pp. 100-101
© 2001 Chabad of California/www.LAchumash.org