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Lekh Lekha

March 23, 2006

Protecting Our Roots
By Peg Kershenbaum

There is, says Qohelet, A time to plant and a time to uproot what is
planted (3:2). When I was a little girl, my grandfather taught me about
gardening. First he showed me how to weed the garden. We pulled the
weeds from the earth and shook the soil from the roots, saving it for
the other plants. The weeds wouldn’t grow without soil, of course. Then
Grandpa showed me how to transplant. He tried to keep the root ball
intact when he moved the plant’dirt, roots and all’into a better
environment. More importantly, he showed me how to decide when it was
the right time to transplant.

Many of us understand the feeling of rootlessness. When, as
newlyweds, my husband and I went to California to pursue a wonderful
educational possibility, we had to abandon our New York pace; we had to
temper our Brooklyn approach to life. But it proved impossible for us
to shake off our family. Our six-foot phone wire was in actuality a
3,000-mile umbilical cord! We were not ready for all of those changes.
We did not have the personal resources needed to strike out on our own,
nor did we find anything wrong with our early experiences back East.
The time was not right. Like many young people who leave after college,
we came back, the original Baby Boomerangs.

In this week’s Torah portion, Abram is told, in effect, to uproot himself. Lech lecha,
says God, addressing Abram alone. Take yourself out from your country,
from your native land, from your father’s house. God offers
compensation for the hardships that the journey would entail: Abram
will become a great nation; God will bless him and make his name great;
he will be a blessing. But how does one leave everything behind? That
would be tantamount to shaking all the soil from his roots; Abram would
be uprooted with little chance to flourish in the land that God
promises to show him.

Abram responds by taking his nephew, Lot, his wife, Sarai, and all
the souls they had ‘made’ in Haran. It doesn’t matter whether these
souls are acquired slaves or ‘converts,’ they are brought by Abram on
his journey as part of the necessary root system.

Rashi tells us that Abram correctly understands the imperative as
implying that God wants him to take root elsewhere, that the move is to
be for his advantage. Hence, he takes what he needs to make the
transition possible. He takes his own family and network of handpicked
supporters. He does not separate himself from society. He brings the
seeds of society with him.

Just last week, God gave a similar command to Noah, Asei l’cha.
God explained all the preparations that would make Noah’s labors
successful. The right balance of animals, space, food and motivation
helped Noah to preserve life and to transplant it after the flood.

Even so, the calls are different. Noah has, perforce, to leave
everything behind. Although he and his family are given protection,
life as they knew it had ceased to exist. They could not return to
country, native land or father’s house. When the floodwaters receded,
they would have to call on all the skills learned in their former lives
to rebuild the world.

When God summons Abram, God makes it clear that he is to abandon
those familiar ways. The ways of Ur Kasdim and the ways of Haran were
not to be the ways of God’s servant. The ways of Terah were not to be
the ways of Abram. Rashi explains that Abram is to go into himself
first in order to articulate his values and literally distance himself
from his unhealthful background. Throughout the story of Abram we see
his gradual rejection of the immoralities of his countrymen, his
neighbors and finally, his family. It is hardest for him to abandon his
family mores, destructive as they were.

Many of us have felt an urge to break out of the confines of our
past. We may have ignored that call for years until we became
uncomfortable enough to seek a new environment. But when we understood
that who we wish to become no longer fit where we were, we began to
extricate ourselves carefully, preserving those networks and
relationships that support our new growth.

May we ultimately find ourselves ‘planted in the House of the Lord,
flourishing in the courts of our God.’ (Ps. 92:14) May we, like Abraham
and Sarah, ‘bear fruit and retain our vigor and strength even in old
age.’ (Ps. 92:15)