פרק יב פסוק א: “וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-אַבְרָם, לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ.”
“The LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”
Hashem’s famous first words to Avra(ha)m.
We all know and cite this pasuk countless times, as words of encouragement and guidance. A request that is known to be one of Avraham’s biggest trials, and it truly seems to be a huge demand. “Stop! Leave everything you know, and follow me, blindly.”
“..מארצך וממולדתך ומבית אביך..”
Yair, my husband, will often share a Chassidic interpretation of this. He would say that the reason he feels the Torah emphasized what Avraham should be leaving, expresses the fact that Hashem wanted to share his full understanding of how difficult his request is. Hashem says; “I’m asking you to leave everything you know.”
Your ארץ (ארציות) – גשמיות – Your financial stability.
Your מולדת – Your homeland – Your culture, language.
Your בית אביך – Your home – Your family.
For years I knew this to be one of the most challenging demands that shook Avraham to his core. But over the years I paid more attention to the Pshat, the storyline of our parshiyot, and something surprising caught my attention, right at the very end of parshat Noach, just before this dramatic calling, we read:
פרק יא’ פסוק לא: “וַיִּקַּ֨ח תֶּ֜רַח אֶת־אַבְרָ֣ם בְּנ֗וֹ וְאֶת־ל֤וֹט בֶּן־הָרָן֙ בֶּן־בְּנ֔וֹ וְאֵת֙ שָׂרַ֣י כַּלָּת֔וֹ אֵ֖שֶׁת אַבְרָ֣ם בְּנ֑וֹ וַיֵּצְא֨וּ אִתָּ֜ם מֵא֣וּר כַּשְׂדִּ֗ים לָלֶ֙כֶת֙ אַ֣רְצָה כְּנַ֔עַן וַיָּבֹ֥אוּ עַד־חָרָ֖ן וַיֵּ֥שְׁבוּ שָֽׁם׃”
“Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans for the land of Canaan; but when they had come as far as Haran, they settled there.”
Avraham was already on the way to Knaan – AKA Israel – before Hashem even approached him.
This really changed my perspective of this interaction. If Avraham intended on going to Israel initially, why was his going, as described at the start of Parshat Lech Lecha, considered to be such a big and difficult undertaking?
When Avraham’s family first set out on the journey, I can assume it was like anything we put our mind to doing. We often know what the right thing is for us to do. We often know that we should be better and that we should be working on our middot, communication, relationships with the people that matter most to us and of course with our Creator. However, we don’t always follow through. We get inspired, we make promises, and then.. “life gets in the way”. We get distracted.
“…but when they had come as far as Haran, they settled there.”
This Parshia fits perfectly with the time of year. We first had the uplifting and awe provoking month of Elul, Rosh Hashana, the ten days of atonement culminating in Yom Kippur. These days were incredible days of inspiration, growth, resolution and high expectation for true change. We all went through it. It was invigorating; it was scary; it was exciting. But then, came “the day after”. Some hold on to that elevated level all through the festive days of joy and celebration (Sukkot) but for me “that day” comes creeping up way too soon. All that promise evaporates and I’m back to being the less upgraded version of myself, back to my old ways. What happened?! Nothing. I’m normal. It’s virtually impossible to hold on to inspiration alone. It’s easy to make fantasy goals when we feel uplifted. It’s harder to reach that goal when inspiration falls short, when all the backdrops of the ימים הנוראים have been packed up neatly, awaiting their next annual performance.
If we look at the division and interpretation of the three things Avraham was asked to leave we can easily find a common denominator for the three – all are areas of categorized comforts for Avraham. Hashem is asking Avraham to step out of his comfort zone. Hashem is asking Avraham to defy the natural inclination of man to halt at the hint of adversity.
Maybe the reason this is still a difficult trial for Avraham is because it’s not only about Hashem’s literal request of Avraham to change his location – it can also be about Hashem’s message of what change (noun) entails. If you want to make a real change and difference, it’s not enough to set a destination as a goal. You’ll need to actually make committed habitual adjustments to life as you know it. It will take work, time and commitment.
If you want to become a better davener, you are going to have to spend real time, delving into understanding your tefila literally and metaphysically. You are going to have to develop a new habit of waking up earlier/ sparing more time in the afternoon or evening.
If you want to be a kinder person, you are going to have to be more conscious of others, their likes, needs and sensitivities. You’re not going to be waiting for someone to ask you to be kind. You’re going to look for ways to be kind.
If you want to be more honest, you’re going to have to deal with people being disappointed with you (self-included).
You’re going to have to deal with the long process of evolvement instead of instant results. etc..
People are scared of change. They don’t mind life altering moments, as long as they are confined to actual moments. But you see, that is not life altering. It’s a life hiccup, a singular high episode, that brings no lasting alteration.
In life we are constantly making choices. Some choices are completely elective while others are forced by life’s urgencies but we are still making them. Those who choose not to change are choosing not to grow. Life will be evolving around them and they will passively be streaming through it.
I believe we all have our own preventative comforts that are stopping us from holding on palpably to our aspirations.
I often have these “just before” conversations with our students. Just before they decide about their post seminary shift (“How is seminary going to impact my life?), just before they choose their roommates, their master’s track, their job, just before they handpick their spouse, pick out their new home, way of life, child’s education. Just before. It’s so important to hesitate and think these monumental life milestones through, but I always know that they’re on the right track if the only thing averting them from their leap is comfort. That’s when I softly encourage them to follow and trust their own “Lech Lecha” voice.
Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorach.