131012 – Parshat Lech Lecha



Lech LechaReb Yosil Rosenzweig



Bereishit (Genesis) 12:1-17:27

Haftarah – Isaiah 40:27-41:16



The call and its message were direct and clear. A people and a land were chosen simultaneously. Avraham’s was to become the founder of “a great nation” which is to be a blessing for “all the families of the earth.” This was to take place in a particular land, to which HaShem would now direct him.

Looking at HaShem’s command to Avraham, we see that, while going to the land is certainly its goal, it contains more than just one purpose. There are two distinct but intrinsic parts to the command, each conveying an important purpose. One without the other just cannot work.

Normally, when a person leaves for abroad, he first walks out of his home, then bids farewell to his family and only lastly leaves the country. The instructions given to Avraham for his departure are in the reverse order. The reason seems to be that Torah is not referring merely to the act of physically moving from where he had lived. The Torah’s message moves us to a different rung on the existential ladder, for when one detaches oneself mentally and spiritually from one’s regular habitat, it is the “old country” that one leaves first, then one distances oneself from family and friends, and only last is one estranged from the home in which one has grown up.

This act of detachment is seen as the main focus of Avraham’s next step, embarking on the road to the land which HaShem promised to show him. The moving from and the moving to are actually one single drama, but they are carried out in two acts of equal importance.

Translations of the Bible usually skip over one small word in the Hebrew original, where the command to Avram starts with the words Lech Lecha. It is true that, grammatically, those two words together can have the simple connotation of the single word Lech, “Go!” or “Go forth,” which is how they appear in most translations (also see Nachmanides’ commentary). However, RaShI and many other commentators, including the rabbis in the Midrash, are not ready to dismiss the extra word. Lech means “Go!” Lech Lecha is more than that, and ought to be translated (as some translators do) “You shall go,” or more correctly: “Go to yourself”!

Leaving the “old country,” his clan and his father’s home was, accordingly, a step towards Avraham’s going “to himself,” prior to assuming the role of nation–founder, smasher of idols, proclaimer of a new great faith and the one who is entrusted with the task of being a blessing to “all the families of the earth.”

A great Chassidic master of the 19th century, Reb Aryeh Leib Alter, the second Rebbe of Gur (1837–1895), who is known as the Sefat Emet, maintains that every human being is commanded daily to engage in the experience of Lech Lecha, to “get thee out” of his country, his family and his home, to move away from the negative influences which surround him, to go to himself by getting away from himself. The commanding voice is thus directed to all of us. But it was only Avraham who first heard and followed this command. Lech Lecha, then, is more than just an instruction to Avraham, but it is a charge and a challenge which we can all share – to free ourselves of those influences that confine us and confound our personal, spiritual development, and it is thus an invitation to a whole and integrated human encounter in the process of individualization and self-actualization.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

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