We have gotten through two portions of Torah, both of which are iconic. You had the creation of the world, where everything was GOOD or VERY GOOD. Then you have the story of Noah, where there was a great flood – a standard tale in most cultures.
But Lech Lecha, the Torah portion for this week, is probably the most important Torah portion thus far. It’s the one that fascinates me the most. For me, this story is beyond a portion of Torah; it’s actually a part of my very soul. And that’s not just because there’s a song by Debbie Freidman about it that still makes me cry.
Lech and Lecha actually translate to the same word: “Go.” It’s so important, the word “go” had to be said twice. When G-d wants something done, I guess emphasis is required.
Although there are many parts of the portion that we can talk about – whether it’s the ritual snipping all you lovely men get to have, the birth of Ishmael, or Abram looking at the stars and seeing how many descendents he will have. But the fact is that in order to get to all of this, G-d had to command Abram and Sarai (who are renamed later in the portion to Abraham and Sarah) to leave the land and people they had always known, including Abram’s father, to the land of Canaan.
And what do they get? Promises of blessings that they don’t really know will happen. There was no certainty, but they did it. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the first recorded leap of faith. Could you imagine if Abram and Sarai lived in this modern world and told these people about their plans? I figure it would go something like this:
What are you, nuts? Why would you travel to the land of Canaan? Do you know what goes on there? And in Egypt, the Pharaoh is going to marry your wife! You have no job, no nothing out there. And what about your nephew, Lot? What do you expect is
going to happen to him? On top of it, all you’re going for are some freakin’ blessings! And not only that, it’s from some mysterious god that we don’t know! He’s a stranger, how do you know if you can trust him/her/it? What kind of life are you heading to?
I have noticed, in the modern world, that people don’t respond well when people try to rock the boat in such a manner. It is deemed as foolish, irrational and unnecessary. But it is in our deepest nature to move on – to grow, to mature, to discover and to head out in the world, not knowing what life is going to throw at us.
Think about what this portion of the Torah taught us as Members of the Tribe: To not be afraid about the prospect of leaving things behind; to be fearless and to trust in ourselves and in G-d, for we will always find the right path. It has been essential to our survival, from escaping the Inquisition of Spain to the Pogroms of Russia, right down to heading into the Middle East after one of the world’s greatest tragedies and creating our own Promised Land. In many of these cases, there weren’t a lot of promises and no guarantees about what would happen to us. Sometimes some crazy things happened along the way. But it was worth it in the end.
Unlike the first two portions, this portion is the clue of what has allowed the Jewish people to survive – not a flood and an ark with animals, and not the story of how we came to be standing where we were; it was a matter of what we did with the time given to us. We became fearless and understood the need to GO, GO. It proved that sometimes to do something drastic was the best thing that you could have ever done for yourself.
As I have lived my life, venturing to new territories and places that I may not be as familiar with, I held Lech Lecha as my inspiration. It was my talisman, providing me comfort when I was heartbroken and strength when I was afraid. It’s perhaps because it is so integral to who we are as the Jewish people. It’s in our very DNA.
As you go forth and find your place in the world, I encourage you to find that Torah portion that speaks to you, that allows you to find the strength to do what you think you could have never done. Lech Lecha gave me courage and determination that I never thought I had to do what needed to be done. Sure, there were some wild bumps in the road, and I’m still ironing out some of them.
But the adventure of life is worth it.