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Parashat Lekh L’kha

October 18, 2006

By Eleanor B. Pearlman

What motivates a person to go on a journey? I think of the push/pull theory of immigration: one leaves to escape intolerable discomfort and anticipates a better life somewhere else. Such departures involve pain in the present and hope for the future. At a certain point in life one may leave the familiar to seek adventure or knowledge. One may leave to learn about one’s self and one’s place in the universe. One may leave to establish one’s identity. Is it the timing, the task, or the divine directive that motivated Abram’s journey in Parashat Lekh L’kha, our weekly parashah? There seem to be both covert and overt reasons for his departure.

The placement of Parashat Lekh L’kha after Parshiyot B’reshit and Noah permits one interpretation. On one level, Abram’s journey seems to reflect the stage of individuation in human development. This parashah follows Parashat Noah, whose root means ‘rest.’ Perhaps, this rest may allude to the latency period in human development, where one prepares for the journey of individuation. The parashah preceding Parashat Noah is Parashat B’reishit, the beginning, the childhood of humanity. So, Abram passed through infancy and latency and has begun his journey outward. Abram had been thinking, searching, developing and he was ready to hear the command to move out into the world, into the unknown. What Abram heard changed his life and began the saga of the Jewish People, of Am Yisrael.

Abram heard in the first verse of the parashah,

‘The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth (go for yourself) from your land, and from your birthplace, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’

Incrementally, he experienced more pain and challenge as he anticipated leaving the familiar land, then his homeland, and, finally, his father’s house, his most intense and intimate loss.

On the other hand, Abram’s journey was, in effect, a continuation of a journey begun by his father Terah a journey described in the final verses of the preceding parashah, Parashat Noah. To summarize, Abram’s father Terah had also left the city of his birth, perhaps to escape his pain after the death of his son Haran: (verses 27-32) Those who left to attempt to travel to Canaan were Terah, ‘his son Abram, his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram.’ (11:31) They all suffered from the loss of or the longing for a child. All of the members of this group were seeking a better life and attempting to move away from their pain. Although their destination was the land of Canaan, they settled in Haran where Terah died.

One can give much thought to the similarity between the name of Haran, the late son, and Haran, the new place of residence. Do we always bring our troubles with us? Do we bury our losses within us after a time? The hey sound from the son Haran originates in the mouth, while the chet sound of Haran, the city, is gutteral. As one resolves pain, one’s raw pain that is on the surface gradually finds a resting place inside one’s being. Does part of us die with the death of a significant other? ‘And Terach died in Haran.’

Finally, the parashah presents Abram’s directive with the words, lekh l’kha, go for yourself or to yourself. We note a similar phrase in the following parashah, Parashat Vayeira, where Abram confronted his final test, the binding of Isaac.

And He said, ‘Please take your son, your only son that you love, Isaac and lekh l’kha, go for yourself, to the land of Moriah; and lift him up there for an offering . . .’ (Genesis 22:2)

Both these directives represent choices presented to Abram. He must go into himself to evaluate the directive and he must fulfill the request for himself, as part of his own choice and journey. There is a real connection between this verse and the first verse in Lekh L’kha, as both verses present a three part movement from the least to the most threatening: from “your country” to “your father’s house” in Lekh L’kha and from “your son” to “Isaac” in the latter case. We are in partnership with God. We can hear God’s messages at times, but we have the capacity to listen or not, to make the directives ours or not: Abram, if you go on a journey, it must be in consideration of your own thoughts and feelings. Lekh l’kha, go into yourself to make your choice, to find your answer. Understand your goals, your motivations, and your wishes before you undertake your journey.

Abram had and we have free choice. We must listen to the voice of God and to the voice of our own being. With Abram as an exemplar, we know we have free choice to determine how we will include God in our lives. Abram sought answers out of his own pain, out of his need to bring closure to Terah‘s journey, and out of his listening to the Being above us all.