Go for Yourself

Saturday, October 12, 2013

3rd Torah Portion, 3rdin Genesis –Lech Lecha

12:1-17:27 (126 verses)

by Rabbi Thomas Louchheim

Synopsis:

God speaks to Avram and tells him to “leave the land of your ancestors” and promises to make him the father of a great nation.  Avram, Sarai, and Lot go to Canaan.  Famine takes them to Egypt, where Avram identifies Sarai as his sister in order to save his life.  Avram and Lot separate. A war beaks out between two groups of local kings; Lot is taken captive in the ensuing action and Avram rescues him.  Sarai is barren, but urges Avram to conceive with her handmaiden, Hagar. With Hagar he has a son, Ishmael.  God establishes a Covenant with Avram.  The sign of the Covenant is circumcision of male babies on the eighth day of birth.

Commentary:

Is exile the natural state for development?  Abraham has to leave home and his country to be the founder of Judaism. Adam and Eve are exiled from the Garden. Cain is condemned to wander the earth. Noah and his family are set adrift on a raging sea. The builders of the Tower of Babel are scattered across the globe. Mohammed is exiled from Mecca to Medina when he becomes the founder of Islam.  The answer to the question might be found in God’s command to Avram.

Lech lecha,” literally means “Go for” or “to yourself” (perhaps, “within” yourself). As Rashi says, “Go for your own benefit, for your own good.” A spiritual quest is often one made alone, away from the comforts and influences found in one’s home.  Avram begins a journey of religious awakening away from the possible objections of his father, taking a road that is at once unfamiliar to him and foreign to his family.  Only when taken freely and independently, as a matter of choice (as opposed to coercion), will the act of devotion lead to fulfillment; in this case, the father of a great nation. One might say that God coerces Avram. God commands, Lech!, “Go!” However, I view this “command” as part of a deeper intention, “If you want to improve, if you want to grow as an individual, if you want to make a difference in this world, then you must take this next ‘step’ out away from the place you are comfortable.”

Look how this is different from other divine commands, “Follow these commandments or you will be punished!” There is no threat of punishment here.

As a result of this journey God says, “I will make your name great and you will be a blessing” (12:2).  Rashi correctly translates this as a command as opposed to something Avram will receive: “… and you will be a blessing.”—you will bring blessings to others.  May you have the personal qualities of Avram: a generous demeanor, a humble soul, and a modest spirit, then blessings will be available to you to bestow upon others (based on commentary in Itturay Torah).

Questions:

1.  What has been the result of a journey you had to take alone?  Is there a lesson from it you can teach your children?

2.  The separation for that journey may be done in stages; why else did God command Avram to leave in this order: “from your land, from the place of your birth, from your father’s home”? How does this metaphor relate to you?

3.  You know you have blessings to give. Why are you waiting?

4.  Let us assume that wherever you are in your life today it is your Promised Land.  What blessings are you giving to those outside of your family?

Focus: 

Hitbodedut is a Hebrew word meaning “to be in solitude.”  It is an ancient form of prayer that involves talking to God in an intimate, informal manner while secluded in a private setting such as a closed room or a private outdoor setting. Rebbe Nachman taught that the best place for hitbodedut is in the forests or fields. “When a person meditates in the fields, all the grasses join in his prayer and increase its effectiveness and power,” he wrote. One should also use this opportunity of lech lecha “going for” or “to yourself” to examine your behavior and motivations, correcting the flaws and errors of the past while seeking the proper path for the future.

Event: Our “Courage and Renewal” Retreat at Picture Rocks, Oct 18-20 is a perfect opportunity for this kind of reflection. Contact the synagogue for details.