19 Oct 2018

Go to yourself

Dear families and friends,

We had a school-wide Kabbalat Shabbat today, in which we gathered as a school community to sing and pray, celebrate and bring in Shabbat together. In between the chicken soup and the fish course (just kiddding, just grape juice and challah), I had a chance to speak to the students and I would like to share with you what I shared with them.

This week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, begins the Torah’s story of Avraham and Sarah, and the name of the parsha is the first two words spoken by Hashem to Avram:

And the Lord said to Abram, “Lech lecha, go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.”

These two words, Lech Lecha, have been the source of countless rabbinic teachings over the centuries. Avrum (who only gets his name changed to Avraham at the end of the parsha) is promised great things by Hashem if he leaves his land and travels to Canaan, that a) he will become the patriarch of a great nation (that’s us by the way), and b) He will bequeath the land of Canaan (Israel) to Avrum’s descendants. It all sounds great, not to mention the added bonus that Avrum actually gets talked to by God himself. He and Sarai pack their bags, and with his nephew Lot in tow, head off on a long journey to the Land of Canaan. The trip is uneventful (they are childless at this point, so don’t have to deal with kids on the back of a camel saying “are we there yet?”) and they arrive in Canaan. They travel the land extensively, spreading the word of Hashem, and building an altar.  It’s all going according to plan.

And then, only ten (!) verses into the parsha:

And there was a famine in the land, and Abram descended to Egypt to sojourn there because the famine was severe in the land.

It all goes sideways. All that Godly promise, all that potential, and it all goes to pot.

What follows in the parsha are stories of hunger and famine, of abduction in Egypt, kidnapping in Sodom, warfare, painful fertility challenges, and a profound family fight, the shock waves of which are playing out to this very day (Ishmael vs. Yitzchak).  This is Hashem’s promise, this is the reward for following Him?

And so we go back to the words Lech lecha, which are grammatically strange.  Really, all Hashem needed to say to Avrum was lech – go!  Lech lecha literally means Go to yourself.  And that’s the teaching.  Life is not supposed to be smooth, it’s not easy.  It’s not linear and direct, and we get knocked off course all the time.  We push that boulder up the hill, and then we slide back down.  It’s in those moments that Hashem is saying to us lech lecha, go to yourself – dig deep, trust yourself, see what you are really made of when the chips are down.

Rocky Balboa says it best, in a powerful speech to his son:

You take the hit, and keep moving forward.  That’s how you fulfill your God-given promise and potential.  Lech lecha, go to yourself.  You got this.

Shabbat Shalom u’mevorach.

Mar Abba