Lech Lecha (Genesis 12: 1- 17:27)

Lech Lecha (Genesis 12: 1- 17:27)

A D’var Torah by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

Why are you going? Where are you going? What will you do when you get there?

“Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.

I will make of you a great nation,

And I will bless you;

I will make your name great,

And you shall be a blessing.

I will bless those that bless you

And curse him that curses you;

And all the families of the earth

Shall bless themselves by you” (Genesis 12: 1-4). [1]

Where was the place that God was exhorting Abraham (still called Abram because the covenant between God and Abram had not yet been invoked) to leave? It was located in the city of Ur in the Sumer region of Southern of Mesopotamia (later Babylon and today the site of modern Iraq). [2] The city of Ur where Abram lived was no rural backwater. It was a busy city situated on several trade routes, a hotbed of commerce. The people worshipped idols (one of the three capital crimes in later Jewish law), and Abram’s father manufactured the representations of these idols that they purchased for their altars and homes. Abram eventually destroyed them in anger as he answered the inner call of an abstract God – whose guiding, invisible presence he was the first to discern.

According to Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, “Abraham was commanded to leave behind the sources of both tradition-directedness (‘your father’s house’) and other-directedness (‘your land, your birthplace’). He was about to become the father of an inner directed people. His entire life was governed by an inner voice, the voice of God.” [3]

Abram was seventy-five years old (it’s never too late!) when together with his wife, his family, including his nephew, Lot, and the wealth that he had accumulated over the years, he set for the land that God had promised – the land of Canaan. To be sure, there were interruptions in the journey. Because of a terrible famine, they had first to sojourn in Egypt for a while. They proceeded to Bethel in the Negev, where Abram first invoked the Lord by name. Lot pitched his tent near Sodom (people conducted their lives in wicked ways, and where God eventually destroyed Sodom and Gemorrah for sexual immorality), but Abram remained in the land of Canaan, “settling in the terebinths of Memre, which are in Hebron; and he built an altar there to the Lord”( Genesis 13:18).

The Hebrew verb in “Lech Lecha” is doubled, which connotes extra urgency, not simply “Go forth!” as it is often translated, but more like and emphatic “get out of here” in modern terms. “Get out of Iraq!” There is a better place that your faith in the Creator will lead you, a place where you can live by your values,  a place where you can develop and transmit your spiritual possibilities.

How many of us have felt that interior urging at various junctures of our lives? How many of us have had the courage to leave everything we have established behind and actually get up and go? Sometimes we cannot stomach the moral injustice in the land where we live. Sometimes we have no choice; conditions are so intolerable that we have to leave while we can. Sometimes, as survivors of disasters can testify, you have to leave what was behind, and rebuild with purpose what can be – even if it will never reach its fullness for them but they are laying the groundwork for the next generation. And sometimes we simply have wider vistas – or we experience the divine call.

America was built by people with that kind of courage, by people with faith that, with God’s help – and often with only a few dollars or less in their pockets — they could make it. Because they believed in a religious faith that was persecuted elsewhere, or because they had ideals they could not compromise.

Sometimes we can stand up, individually and together, and rectify injustices being perpetrated, even legislated into being, in the land that we live in and love. Sometimes we can stand firm in unison – and then we don’t have to leave.

In his column for the Reform movement, Rabbi Stephen S. Pearce points out that millennia after Abraham’s biblical journey, the rabbis have been concerned with the tension between the physical and spiritual – that is, the ideal – worlds, and how we can reconcile them [4]. It takes courage as well as inspiration and yes, faith, to attempt it, and it can be a lifelong endeavor.

And when one day we die, like Abraham we begin a journey that is both physical and spiritual. As we are in the process of departing from our physical selves in the lands where we live – as we humans inevitably do – we also have to take heart that we have lived a life of courage and vision to the best of our abilities, circumstances, and resources, and that we are now journeying to a new land that God will show us, the inner landscape of the soul. Who knows what opportunities we will find there to aid the human spirit?

[1] The JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh translation.

[2] A  significant port on the Persian Gulf, the biblical Ur was first established in 3800 BCE.

[3] http://rabbisacks.org/inner-directedness-lech-lecha-5778/

[4] https://reformjudaism.org/learning/torah-study/lech-lcha

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2017.

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