This Shabbat (Sabbath), many in the Jewish community are reflecting upon the rabbinic teachings connected to the weekly biblical reading of “Lech Lecha” (Genesis 12:1-17:27 ; Isaiah 40:21-41:16). The following is a reflection rooted in these. For more about the sources, please go to www.chabad.org.
Out of nowhere comes “The Call” to Abram to go (“lech lecha”) from “his land, from his birthplace, from his father’s house, to the land that G!d will show him”. Traditional rabbinic commentary teaches that these seemingly repetitive words teach us something profound about the process by which we can evolve into a place where we can become truly ourselves.
The Hebrew words “lech lecha” literally can be translated “go for yourself” or “go to yourself”. And indeed, this is the larger existential question… who am I? who was I created to be? The commandment comes to Abram to leave his land, his birthplace and his father’s house… and the rabbis explain that this order instructs us on the steps one must take in order to journey toward blessing.
We must leave one’s land… we are called to leave all the security that comes with being connected to one’s land… the experience of wandering, of being disconnected from one’s physical and geographic roots is jarring… and yet, this biblical text suggests that this traumatic experience is an important layer that one must peel within one’s self, in order to see more clearly, to begin to learn lessons of compassion and trust… this is the same lesson of trust that the Children of Israel were forced to learn in the desert, escaping ancient Egyptian slavery and subsisting on manna… unable to collect more than one day’s worth of manna at a time, forced to live in the moment and trust that the next moment will reveal itself in its own time…
The act of leaving one’s land can be profoundly instructive and is an important step in the spiritual quest. We can leave it literally or metaphorically, to learn to deconstruct the identities that we inherited… the nationalities and sources of patriotism that teach us to build walls and to want to protect what we have… the spiritual quest is to recognize the ways in which ownership and identity are really just illusions of this world that blind us to the ways G!d seeks to Call to us.
The next command to Abram is to leave his birthplace… which the rabbis teach is more than simply the physical location where he was born, but speaks to all of the early beliefs and wounds and narratives that shaped him… these served a purpose to make him who he was, but Abram was created to eventually become Abraham, the father of many peoples, the blessing upon which faith was born… and to become Abraham, he needed to let go of his belief that he was just Abram. The “ha” inside of his name was given to him later, after he completed the painful but necessary journey of deconstructing himself and leaving all that he knew.
How do we leave our birthplace? How do we leave behind everything we were told to believe? What will it take to help us let go of all of those early experiences that etched themselves into our unconsciousness and continue to implore us to react, to respond to present stimuli as if they were from the past… Our birthplace, our childhood, our father’s house, our family dynamics, the roles that we played when we were children, the scripts that we were taught that we continue to enact… all of these beliefs and defense mechanisms had their place, but they have ceased to serve their initial purpose, and they now are quick sand… they keep us trapped in the past.
Lech Lecha- go to yourself and go for yourself. Leave what you know and leave what you have been. Leave all that shaped you. Release it and let it go. Each of us is being called to move forward into the unknown future… our Call is unknown to us and it is terrifying to leave the security of all that we have known to move forward into the unknown… and yet, it is for this that each of us have been created. We, no less than Abram, we have been created to journey forward in a never-ending quest to become… to be…
Let us take this week to reflect upon those possessions and beliefs which may be comfortable but may no longer serve us… in what ways are we chained to the past? What would we become if we dared to venture forward into the unknown? Who would we become? What would we hear if the past and the possessions and the beliefs and fears that currently deafen us were to suddenly cease… how can we create the silence to listen and hear G!d’s Call to each of us?