Parashat Lech Lecha 5782: Undertaking New Journeys
Rabbi Daniela Szuster
This week’s parashah begins with a difficult order: “Adonai said to Abraham, “Lech lecha”, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Bereshit 12:1).
God commanded Abraham to abandon his land, his place of birth, his father but God didn’t mention to Abraham which land he should go to. It is only written that God will show Abraham the place while he is traveling.
Why didn’t God mention to Abraham which land he should go to? How did Abraham know where to go? When will God show Abraham the land?
There are commentators who think that Abraham knew from the beginning that his destination was Canaan since his father began a family journey to that destination, which was interrupted and resumed by Abraham at this point after his father’s death (11:31).
Other commentators think that Abraham didn’t know what his destination was. Therefore, he started to walk from place to place, waiting for God’s indication.
There is a Midrash in the book of Tanhuma that describes, by means of a question, Abraham’s first trial: “Is there a man who travels without knowing to what destination (makom) he travels?” Only a person with great faith, as Abraham had, is able to do that!
The Midrash imagines people saying when they saw Abraham: “Look at this old man! Traveling through the country, looking like a madman. (Tanhuma, Lekh lekha 3 and Y’lamdenu, quoted in Torah Shelemah 12: 107).
According to this Midrash, Abraham was walking and walking without knowing where he had to go. He was wandering from place to place, waiting for God’s revelation.
Following this idea, Ramban said that Abraham wandered about, from country to country, and only when he arrived in Canaan and God told him (Genesis 12:7), “To your descendants will I give this land”, did Abraham know that Canaan was the land, and then he settled there.
The Ha’amek Davar suggests that Abraham intuitively understood that Canaan possessed a unique holiness, and therefore set it as his goal.
Rashi thinks that God did not specify the ultimate destination in order to keep Abraham in suspense, making the destination even more beloved in Abraham’s eyes. God also wished to reward Abraham for every step that he took based on his faith.
Rabbi Soloveitchik explains that God wanted Abraham to discover the Promised Land intuitively. It was essential that Abraham feel the pull of Eretz Yisrael. God wanted Abraham to be drawn by the land, and to migrate to it, just as some species of fish migrate instinctively.
God wanted Abraham to be guided not by the logic of his mind, but by his intuition. In this way, God challenged Abraham to develop his spiritual dimension.
It is interesting to point out that, as Avivah Zornberg notes in his commentary of Parashat Hashavua, for the first time, a journey is undertaken not as an act of exile and punishment—as happened with Adam, Cain, and the dispersed generation of Babel—but as a response to a divine imperative that articulates and emphasizes displacement as its crucial experience. (Based on Avivah Zornberg commentary).
Abraham didn’t leave his country because of persecution, hunger nor discrimination. He left his land for a sacred, and spiritual mission.
“Lech lecha’, “Go forth”, literally means,” betake yourself.” There is a Midrash that interprets this to mean, “Go forth to find your authentic self, to learn who you are meant to be” (Mei Hashiloah).
Maybe “Lech lecha,” this journey with an indeterminate destination, was an opportunity for Abraham to discover his own faith and beliefs and the sacred mission he was able to fulfill. This journey transformed him and made him think of a new beginning in a new place with new beliefs and ideas.
Wandering from land to land, Abraham found his own path and who he is meant to be. It was necessary for Abraham to leave his land and make this journey in order to discover God and start developing a new tradition.
We can learn from Abraham that from time to time it is good to make a break with our routines and do a “Lech lecha,” undertake short journeys which give us fresh air, new experiences and new ideas and insights. These kinds of trips are healthy, relevant and maybe one of the most unforgettable experiences of our lives.
Like Abraham, making a new journey, you may have the opportunity to know yourself better, to discover your skills and potentialities, and be transformed by that experience.
In the phrase “Lech lecha”, “go forth”, the Hebrew letter lamed goes up and the caf sophit goes down. A Hasidic commentary says that when traveling you must go out as well as look into yourself.
May God guide us to have opportunities in our lives to make journeys that enable us to breathe fresh air, to have new experiences and to look into ourselves as our patriarch Abraham did.