Lech Lecha

by Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

"The L‑rd said to Abram: 'leave your country, your kin and your father's house, and go to a country I will show you.'" (Genesis 12, 1)

Thus begins a trek for our first Patriarch that defines the Jewish People for all eternity. Stepping away from the world he knows he sets out on a physical as well as spiritual journey secure in the knowledge that G‑d has a special plan for him and his progeny. I shall make you into a great nation; I shall bless you and make your name so great that it will be used in blessings. What an unusual statement to encourage Abraham to follow on a path the destination of which is not revealed to him. Considering the dictum of our Sages - "The deeds of the fathers are guideposts for their children" and our view that even the Biblical narrative has lessons to teach us, it is incumbent upon us to delve into the importance G‑d placed upon this command to our first Patriarch.

There is a famous Midrash that talks of Abraham as a youngster. The story is told that his father, Terah, had a most successful idol making shop. One day Terah asks Abraham to mind the shop while he steps out. Considering the idols, Abraham begins to question how mere pieces of wood and stone can have any powers. In the course of cleaning he accidentally breaks one of the idols. Upon his return, Terah asks his son how the idol came to be broken. Abraham replies that two idols began fighting and one was broken. Terah responds by saying that idols are unable to fight. It is at that moment Abraham begins to develop an awareness of the One G‑d Creator of the Universe.

With this story in mind the trek Abraham is to embark upon becomes clearer. True it eventually leads him to a new land; the land of Canaan which G‑d promises to him and his children throughout time. This journey however represents far more than the physical transporting of the beginnings of our People to Israel. It represents the method by which Abraham is to mature spiritually as well. Let us now look at G‑d's commandment to Abraham with this in mind.

Lech Lacha, which we usually translate as the command to leave, literally means go to you, or it is time for you to reach into your essence. Having realized the Oneness of G‑d, Abraham has reached a crossroads in his life. He must find his true "you" his true spiritual identity. How is this to be accomplished? "Leave your country"; he must remove himself from the surroundings of paganism and idol worship. There must be a realization in the individual of how profound ones surroundings can be in forming one's attitudes and direction. Too often those destined for true greatness are befuddled by the world in which they live. Surrounded by decadence, steeped in immorality and crime, the community in which one lives nevertheless exhibits a hold on one. Witness Noah, who at G‑d's word spent a lifetime building what would naturally have seemed an absurdity to his community - an Ark to outlive a future flood. Yet when the time came for Noah to embark upon his journey it was G‑d who had to close the door on the Ark. Noah's own commitment to his life long venture was in the end not strong enough to severe the ties he had to his community. And so G‑d instructs Abraham to leave his community that he might once and for all cast off the shackles that his communal relationships placed upon his spiritual growth.

He is as well-commanded Abraham to leave his kin, his family for they too exerted a terrible influence upon him. Witness the best of them, his cousin Lot. Our Rabbis point to the fact that Lot's actions in dealing with his three visitors hint to his moral superiority over his neighbors and yet at the same time represent the moral depravity that was part and parcel of his life. Attempting to protect his guests from homosexual rape at the hands of a wild crowd of neighbors he offers his daughters to the crowd instead. This phenomenon of family influence is vividly depicted in the movie "The Godfather." Raised to live a normal life free of organized crime, the character portrayed nevertheless succumbs to the influence of his family eventually becoming the Godfather himself.

Abraham had grown to the point at which he needed to be rid of the influence of his own kin. He needed to strike out on his own, holding fast to his belief in the goodness of G‑d if he was to reach the spiritual heights that awaited him.

And finally G‑d requires that he leave his own father's house, the very people who nurtured him, fed him, provided him with all his physical needs to say nothing of the bonds of love that exist between parents and child. For his father, it would appear from the Midrash, also was so wrapped up in the idolatrous cults of the day, that even the realization of his small son regarding idols evidenced in the Midrash had no effect upon him. To truly move forward, to completely remove himself from the evils of the society of his childhood Abraham was required to cut himself off from his own parents.

What an unbelievably difficult assignment was placed upon his shoulders by G‑d! And yet determined and resolute Abraham left the world he knew his greater family and even his own parents without a second thought. For he had touched the infinite. He had become aware of G‑d in his own soul and realized that his lot was elsewhere. Not knowing his destination meant little to him. For he was on a journey; a journey to find the life that awaited him in his new awareness of self and of G‑d.

Looking at this story from such a vantage point we realize how clearly it speaks to each of us. If you are intent on moving ahead, if you are committed to realizing your full spiritual potential, you must be willing to sacrifice all that is near and dear to you in your spiritual quest. Oh it may not become necessary to do all that Abraham was required to do, but be aware that growth, true spiritual growth, requires throwing off the shackles of ones day to day life and having the Faith to go it alone if necessary.

One can only begin to imagine the reaction Abraham's community family and parents had to this seemingly peculiar decision of his. No doubt they considered him odd. Why would he want to break all ties with everything that was known to him embarking on a journey to an unknown destination? It was the feeling in his soul his awareness of G‑d's presence that spurred him on. His taking up the wanderer's staff was the most natural act he could have done. And while the world looked at him as peculiar, he knew that he was embarking upon the greatest adventure of his life - that of finding union with G‑d and wholeness within himself.

Each of us in our own way is visited by G‑d with the same command, Lech Lacha, leave, get out of your humdrum life, reach for new vistas of religious growth. That small voice calls to us from our most inner being. Abraham's story begs the question for each of us - will we cast off everything to embark upon the path of spiritual growth and fulfillment, to travel to the land of Canaan, there to become a new person, reborn to a life of holiness and purity? This is no doubt the most important question each of us is called upon to answer. Let us pray that we answer in the affirmative.