Rabbi Ariel J Friedlander – 8 November 2019
In this week’s Torah portion Adonai commands Avram to leave all that he has known for an unidentified destination. The reward is fantastic – a Mesopotamian meanderer without children or purpose will become the beloved ancestor of myriad people throughout the world. Avram chooses to go forth according to Adonai’s command, and our current existence is a validation of his choice.
A literal reading of this passage seems clear, and we acknowledge the origin of the Jewish people each time we recite the Amidah prayer. But the text also raises several questions. What does it mean to leave eretz (land), moledet (birthplace) and bet av (parental house)? What do we leave behind, and towards what are we going? What choices do we have?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe had a metaphorical response to these questions. He taught that the land represents our psyche, or natural inclinations. Birthplace suggests environmental influences, e.g., the attitudes and behaviour of our parents, teachers and peers. Thus, to leave the house of our parents signifies the moment when, fully formed, we are able to use our intellect to move beyond our genetic and conditioned selves. From a traditional point of view, this may be expressed as following God’s commandments, even when they conflict with our own will and desires, thus ensuring a flourishing and abiding future for ourselves and our community.
While we may never be really free of our ego and its prejudices, we do hope to find a higher self, the essence of the Divine within that recalls the image in which we were created. If pursuing a traditionally halachic path does not suit us, how then may we find a way to follow?
Let’s begin with Adonai’s command of Lech Lecha. ‘lech’ is an imperative, in the second person singular form. ‘lecha’ may be translated as ‘by you’, ‘for you’ and ‘to you’. As the second person is already indicated in the imperative, why then is it repeated? Since not one word in the Torah is considered superfluous, what is the text trying to tell us? For ‘by you’, we might understand ‘by yourself’, i.e. that Avram and his family should go towards a fresh start. They can leave their background behind to build a new and different life. With ‘for you’, we can see that Adonai’s offer would be a great career move for Avram. Not only would Avram’s present circumstances improve materially, but a permanent legacy would also be established. However, the majority of commentators lean towards the translation ‘to you’.
How may we understand ‘to you’? To go ‘to yourself’ is to identify, to recognize who you are. You may be the son of your mother or the daughter of your father. You went to this school and that college or uni, and now you fill your days with work and laundry and family and cooking and friends and getting things done. And maybe some exercise. Or a diet. And good intentions for developing a better way of life in the future. It’s very tiring. Is it possible that the pressures of our contemporary lifestyles have pushed us out of focus? Do we know who we are, and what our purpose is?
In order to make the most of our lives, to be fulfilling and fulfilled, we need to find that spark of Godliness within. Yom Kippur may be recently behind us, but a thorough examination of our motivation and actions must continue. What should we mute, and to what and to whom should we listen? From what should we avert our eyes, and what should we see? What of all we hold so tightly is fluff, and what is vital?
The immediacy of Adonai’s command to us cannot be ignored. “Go! Recognise your potential. Become you!” If we can let go of our baggage, and make space for the voice of our own hearts, surely we shall find the energy and the incentive to go forth and take our part in tikkun olam, the healing of our inner world, and thence the repair and healing of the world we share with each other.
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