Parashat Lech Lecha
And so our story now begins. With the portion Lech Lecha, Torah moves from Jewish pre-history to the beginnings of our own historical drama. It begins with a “call” from God to Avrum to “go forth to a land that I will show you.” Few passages in Torah are more dramatic and meaningful, for each generation of Jews must find a way to answer their own contextual “call.” Moving forward involves risk, change and faith. A key message of this portion is that change is constant, be it as a community or an individual. To stay the same is to atrophy not only one’s body, but also one’s soul. Let me suggest that this message, a message at the heart of our communal history, is most relevant for each of us.
Lech Lecha contains a series of scenes that provide a foundation for the chapters that follow. Avrum goes to Egypt, encounters challenges from a variety of kings, and eventually enters into a covenant with God which includes rich texts that speak to the eventual return to what will be the Promised Land. The portion continues with the story of Sarai and Hagar, as we are introduced to the pathos involved in Sarai’s inability to bear a child. The Sarai, Hagar, Ishmael saga in this portion will find a conclusion, in a sense, in the next portion of Torah, Vayera. Finally, Lech Lecha concludes with the promise by God to Avrum that he will be the father of a great nation and with that, the promise to Sarai that she will bear a child. The promise is sealed, in a sense, with the ritual of circumcision as Avrum becomes Abraham and Sarai becomes Sarah.
There is much to unpack here, however. Let us return to the beginning of this portion and the command or “call” to “go forth.” A classic commentary sees in the Hebrew not a call to go outwardly forward, but a sense of being challenged to go into one’s self. It is as if the tradition is saying to Avrum, and to us, that transitions in life often must begin with our own internal movement. We have to be ready to move on and go forward in life, and until we internalize this, we cannot move.
Often, however, change comes to us from outside of our own self. External issues impact our life, often randomly, and the result is that we are forced or challenged to “go forward.” We can glimpse a bit of that as well from the text. At the end of chapter 11, Avrum’s father dies. Right after the death is the call to lech lecha. What can be deduced in this? There are people who hold off their own lech lecha moment until they fulfill an obligation. In our world, we see this a lot with the issue of caregiving. So many people are caregivers and that mitzvah often puts a hold on one’s own dreams and hopes. Eventually that obligation is fulfilled, and it is as if that chapter of life is completed and a person then becomes free to move forward.
It is not only with a death or the completion of a task that sparks this opportunity to change. Life situations such as a new job, a divorce, or re-marriage present us with opportunities to move to the next stage of life. Likewise, we see people who leave full-time work, and faced with years, maybe decades, of life and, we pray health, re-imagine their third stage of life. These are all lech lecha moments. The challenge in all of this is to seize those moments and to have the faith in one’s self to be able to move forward in life, for we are part of a religious tradition that sees life as a continuing unfolding of the possible.
Fear not! Have faith. Lech lecha!
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.