Parshat Lech-Lecha: Genesis 12:1-17:27; Isaiah 40:27-41:16.
Most often we translate the phrase lech lecha as simply “Go forth.” When we read these words, we focus on the most commonly accepted meaning of the text: God is commanding Abram to leave his native land and his father’s house and go to an unknown land that God will show him.
It is a story familiar to all. Unfortunately, that prior knowledge inhibits further exploration.
I believe that we are robbing ourselves of the deeper meaning that perhaps speaks to us more clearly in our own day. Lech lecha when translated literally means “Go unto yourself.” Lech is a commandment to literally walk or go. Lecha means to you or to yourself. God is commanding Abram to dig deep, to go on a journey of self-exploration, not just to find the land that God has chosen, but to find himself as well.
When we begin any kind of journey, it should be both physical and spiritual. Surely, we cannot travel anywhere without our physical bodies. Why should we even attempt to do so without our souls? The two are inextricable, and I believe that is what God is trying to prepare Abram for when he tells him, “Go unto yourself.”
Right now, considering the world’s challenges, it seems we have all been tapped on the shoulder by God and given the same directive as Abram, “Go, find yourself.” Why now?Because so much of what we like to hide behind is being stripped away, even the most well off are being forced to rethink the necessity of life’s luxuries.
I would argue that though this is a scary time, it is one we can use to our own advantage. We can use it to extend the task of taking cheshbon nefesh, an accounting of our souls.
The challenge of lech lecha is the same now as it was for Abram: Go to yourself. Find out what has meaning for you and what does not, what you need and what you could give to help others. Abram had the courage to go on this journey, and so must we. Abram taught us about hospitality and sharing the best of what we have. That made everywhere that he and Sarai were a promised land.
What are the things and people that allow you to live in your own promised land, and what are the aspects that make it seem less than idyllic? We can all accept this challenge to “go to ourselves” and live up to it. We must. The world we live in today demands that we do.
This article by Rabbi Jennifer Kaluzny of Temple Israel originally appeared in the Jewish News on Nov. 6, 2008.