Lech-Lecha – It’s OK to change

Almost everyone I know owns a car and spends a good amount of time driving that car.  I am one of those people.  And I hate driving.  One of the reasons I hate driving is that I always have to be looking at the road in front of me, concentrating on the mundane task of following the traffic.  I much prefer to be a passenger — at least I can look out of the window to the sides and look at what we are passing.  I most like walking because this way, I can stop whenever I want to more closely examine my surroundings and I am able to notice things in much greater detail than from the distant, speeding car.

What I do value, in either case, is my mobility – freedom of movement to go where I want to go.  I’m not sure if it is something that we appreciate as much as we should.  I would say that all of us here have the possibility not only to get up and go locally, but with our passports and our hard-earned money, we can get on a plane and go virtually anywhere in the world, if we wish.  Our closest neighbors, the residents in the Palestinian villages, for example, for the most part do not have this freedom.  The Reform Movement in Israel represented recently people who do not have access to cars in an appeal to the Supreme Court to allow more public transportation on Shabbat to improve their mobility.

In this week’s Torah portion, Lech-Lecha, G-d calls to Avram in those most memorable lines:

לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ:

“Take yourself and go from your country and from your native land and from your father’s house to a country that I will show you.”  When we read about this call, and Abraham’s ensuing journey, our focus is often the destination – the promise of a land for Abraham’s descendents.  But I think what is so powerful about this call is also that it gives permission to change.  G-d, I believe, is saying in essence to Abraham, “Just because you were born in one place and into a certain family and certain way of life, it does not mean that you have to stay there and be in the same situation always.”  G-d encourages mobility and change.

Abraham gets up and goes, inviting others along for the journey and takes all of his stuff. Notice the active language:

(ד) וַיֵּ֣לֶךְ אַבְרָ֗ם כַּאֲשֶׁ֨ר דִּבֶּ֤ר אֵלָיו֙ ה֔’…(ה) וַיִּקַּ֣ח אַבְרָם֩ אֶת־שָׂרַ֨י אִשְׁתּ֜וֹ וְאֶת־ל֣וֹט בֶּן־אָחִ֗יו וְאֶת־כָּל־רְכוּשָׁם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר רָכָ֔שׁוּ וְאֶת־הַנֶּ֖פֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר־עָשׂ֣וּ בְחָרָ֑ן וַיֵּצְא֗וּ לָלֶ֙כֶת֙ אַ֣רְצָה כְּנַ֔עַן וַיָּבֹ֖אוּ אַ֥רְצָה כְּנָֽעַן: (ו) וַיַּעֲבֹ֤ר אַבְרָם֙ בָּאָ֔רֶץ עַ֚ד מְק֣וֹם שְׁכֶ֔ם עַ֖ד אֵל֣וֹן מוֹרֶ֑ה… (ח) וַיַּעְתֵּ֨ק מִשָּׁ֜ם הָהָ֗רָה מִקֶּ֛דֶם לְבֵֽית־אֵ֖ל… (ט) וַיִּסַּ֣ע אַבְרָ֔ם הָל֥וֹךְ וְנָס֖וֹעַ הַנֶּֽגְבָּה: פ

And Avram went as YHWH spoke to him…And Avram took his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot and all of their property and all of the souls they had made in Haran and they left to go to the land of Canaan, and they came to the land of Canaan.  And Avram passed in the land until the place of Shechem until Alon Moreh….And he removed from there to the mountain east of Beit El…And Avram journeyed back and forth to the Negev/south.

Afterwards, because of a famine, he decides to go down to Egypt, which we could understand as a mistake.  But, as we know, everyone makes mistakes.

At some point, we learn of Avram’s nickname – he is Avram HaIvri, Avram the Hebrew or literally, Avram, the one who passes/moves.

Abraham’s call is truly significant – and required reading especially in secular schools – as this is the text that justifies the Jewish right to autonomy in this land – G-d promised it to our ancestor.  However, just as significant is G-d’s call to get up and move around.

A talmudic teaching which is a popular expression today, says “Change your place, change your luck” (Rosh HaShanah 16b).  A physical move, seeing a new sight, gives us new perspective.  When we are stuck, it helps to get out of our box and also perhaps helps to see how others live.

Judaism is very much a mind-body approach.  We do not negate the material world, but rather we harness it to empower our spiritual consciousness.  Kipah, talit, mezuzah – the intent of these objects is to remind us of our spiritual imperatives.  This world was given to us as a gift – everything we see helps us.  The trees teach us that we can be righteous (צדיק כתמר יפרח), the sky teaches us appreciation (השמים מספרים כבוד אל), and meeting other peoples and cultures gives us new ideas or helps us to refine our already held ideals and certainly helps us remember that there is more than one way to live in this world.

The journey itself has, of course, spiritual significance.  What are we looking for when we wander?  Wisdom, of course; the right way to live our lives.  The act of going back and forth in the land, according to the sage Rabbeinu Bachya, signifies a sort of “shaking” of the intellect, an act of engaging in an ongoing dialogue of inquiry.  When G-d says, “I will give it (the land) to you,” this is as if G-d is saying, “I will give you knowledge and wisdom to know the quality of the things/people you will encounter here.”  We can go through a place and miss a lot – like the expression, “To not see the forest for the trees.”  It’s not enough to set out on a journey, we must also tune our consciousness to receive and integrate the experiences so we can develop and grow and, ideally, become better people.

And noting that sometimes being a wanderer has a price.  Avram HaIvri and his family/camp lived apart and also stood alone in their belief in YHWH as their only G-d.[1]  This requires a certain degree of self-confidence and a strong faith in your way.

May it be G-d’s will that we shun complacency, gird ourselves with courage and curiosity to set out on journeys of discovery with open minds and open hearts, and that through these new experiences deepen our wisdom and our commitment to the world and all of its creatures.





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