Author's Note on Parshat Lech Lecha
Date: October 20, 2018
11 Cheshvan 5779
Parshat Lech Lecha begins with the famous words that G-d spoke to Abraham (then Abram): “Lech Lecha, me’artzecha, u’mi’moladetecha, el ha’aretz asher areka.” “Go ‘to you,’ from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house to the land I will show you”
I always thought it was interesting that, to demonstrate his faith and find his connection to G-d, Abraham had to be told to get out of his land, birthplace and father’s house. Why? Couldn’t he learn what he had to learn right where he was? Or if the goal was to tell him to go to Cana’an, why not say “Get out of this land and go to the land I will show you”? Why add the drama of getting out of his birthplace (when he wasn’t even at his birthplace at the time) and out of his father’s house? (By the way, he was 75 years old and still living in his father’s house? If that were true, I would have thought his father would have thrown him out long before G-d told him to leave.)
To see what G-d might have been saying, consider each phrase separately:
Get out of your land. I once spoke to a business leader at a national chain of Italian restaurants. To make the business model work, the chain had to have a uniform dining experience wherever the customer went in the country. They sold “authentic” Italian cuisine. A problem they faced was how to make sure that the food was uniformly “authentic” Italian cuisine when peoples’ idea of “authentic” Italian cuisine varied depending on where you were in the country. So they decided to cater to local tastes. For example, people in the northeast thought “authentic” tomato sauce was supposed to be chunky. People in the southwest thought tomato sauce should be pureed. They made their sauce conform to those local variations. Interestingly, regardless of the differences in the sauce, residents in each part of the country were sure that THEIRS was the authentic Italian sauce. Where we live has a significant influence on our thinking and outlook.
Get out of your birthplace. Soon after we moved to the Washington, DC area, we helped start a conservative Jewish congregation. All the members were from other places in the country or other synagogues in the area. With this disparate membership, we had to develop ritual policies, practices, and melodies that everyone could accept. One person would come up with a recommendation and others would tell him or her that the proposed practice was wrong. It just wasn’t the way a synagogue should do it. As it turned out, there was only one synagogue in the entire world that ever did everything right – it was called “the synagogue I grew up in.” In other words, one person would say what we should do and others would say “well, they didn’t do that in the synagogue I grew up in.” The funny thing was that no matter how much we hated the synagogue we grew up in, because that was where we “born” as Jews and first encountered “official” Judaism, we assumed that our first synagogue somehow knew what it was doing.
Get out of your father’s house. When we are children, sooner or later, our parents tell us: “As long as you are in my house, you’ll do it my way. When you have your own house, you can do it your way.” Of course, once we are adults and have children, we learn that this was not exactly right. What our parents meant was “Even when you have your own house, you will still do it my way.” Try interacting with your children when your parents are around and sooner or later your parents will tell you how you should do something differently because that was the way they always did it with you. We never seem to get out of our parents’ house.
G-d’s message to Abraham, and indeed to all generations, was that if we really want to connect to G-d and His message, we have to get out of our comfort zones – look for a new tomato sauce and learn to call it authentic. We not only have to move geographically, but we have to change our entire outlook and think about life and our world from a different perspective. If we are too comfortable with where we are in life, we lose the opportunity to find a new level.
In this respect, consider that odd phrase “Lech Lecha.” It is literally translated as “go to you” and sometimes translated as “go for yourself.” However, perhaps it means “go to your true self;” not the one defined by where you live, where you were born, or in whose house you live. Go out of yourself, challenge yourself and your assumptions. It might take a leap of faith; but that’s the point.