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Parshat Lech Lecha-Congregation Mishkan Tefillah

Louis_Maayan.200pxThis week we will read parshat Lech lecha. But before we talk about it, let’s take a deep breath and recognize that, at this point in Torah, we haven’t heard from God, in more than three chapters. God has been silent for what we understand to have been 40 generations, that is, since the time of Noah. Now, here comes parshat lech lecha and suddenly, without warning and not even with an introduction, we hear God’s voice instruct Avram:

לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ

וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ

“Go-you-forth, from your land, from your kindred, from your father’s house, to the land that I will let you see.” (Gen. 12:1; Fox)

God bursts onto the scene and in a few brief but oh so direct and compelling words tells Avram, leave everything you know behind and go to a place about which you know nothing, but [trust me] I will show you…and, by the way, I give you several awesome blessings.

The words Lech l’cha are usually translated as “go forth” and if you are anything like me, you approach this parsha quite casually. We know it’s coming and we know what God will command Avram to do. If, even upon first reading, we found God’s command stunning, even outrageous in nature, generally, we are no longer phased by it. After all, this is the myth, the foundational story, of the origin of the Jewish people.

The phrase lech lecha, however, has an additional translation; one which indicates a journey entirely different than the physical one. Literally according to the grammar, lech lecha means “go to [or toward] yourself”. Those words are directions, not for a physical journey, rather they invite a metaphysical or perhaps a spiritual one. Rabbi Shefa Gold calls it the “Covenantal Journey “because it describes the process of the maturation of the soul as it rises to stand in covenant with God.”[1] It is the inner journey of Avrum that will lead him to a new self-realization; to become the biological father of the Jewish people.

In an invitation to all who are open to hear it, this week’s parsha invites us to take the same kind of journey. It is the same journey which many of us have already taken; perhaps even more than once in our lives. It is those times when we encounter life circumstances which require or at least strongly suggest, that we “re-invent” ourselves. Our self-identity is not adequate to address our current life circumstances. And so, with profound inner strength, inspiration and perseverance, we “go to ourselves”. We may identify and integrate parts of ourselves that had been hidden or underdeveloped. Disappointments or even tragedy can be our teacher; the impetus to find a strength we did not know we had. Sometimes we will find access to God or whatever we call the One Creator of all life and the source of blessing.   In all cases, this journey of self-realization begins wherever we are now. Avram responded with clarity and immediacy. God commanded and the Torah tells us וַיֵּלֶךְ אַבְרָם and Avram went. Our self-realization might be a process-even a life-long process. When we are open to them, these opportunities for growth toward greater self-realization will come, as we say about pregnancy, b’sha’ah tova, when the time is right.

A story:

An elephant and a dog became pregnant at same time. Three months later the dog gave birth to six puppies. Six months after that the dog was pregnant again, and after nine months, it gave birth to another dozen puppies. The pattern continued.

On the eighteenth month the dog approached the elephant questioning, “Are you sure that you are pregnant? We became pregnant on the same date, I have given birth three times to a dozen puppies and they are now grown to become big dogs, yet you are still pregnant. What’s the story?”

The elephant replied, “There is something I want you to understand. We are on very different journeys. I am an elephant and you are a dog. What I am carrying is not a puppy but an elephant. I give birth to one elephant only once in two years. The timing of the birth of your puppies, and their size is perfect for you. My pregnancy is longer. My baby is much bigger. Both are perfect for me. Neither is better or worse than the other. They are different. [2]

Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger, otherwise known as the S’fat Emet, understands YHWH’s words to Avram in the following way: “Go to the Land that I will show you-where I will make you VISIBLE-where your potential being will be realized in multiform and unpredictable ways.”[3]

May each one of us be blessed, when the need is present and the time is right, to be seen and nourished and fulfilled in “multiform and unpredictable ways.”


[1] Torah journeys, the inner path to the promised land, Rabbi Shefa Gold, p.30

[2] Adapted for this purpose by me; from a blog (#DawnBeveridgeElliott; #unforgettablelashes)

[3] Torah Journeys, Rabbi Shefa Gold, as quoted from Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger, Sefer Sefat Emet al ha-Torah u-Moadim, Lech Lecha. Rabbi Gold learned this text from Rabbi Art Green

Rabbi Ma’ayan Sands was ordained in 2016 by the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College in Newton Centre, MA.

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