Genesis 12:1 – 17:2
“And the Lord said to Abram: Lech lecha, go you forth from your land and your birthplace and your father’s house to the land I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation …” [Gen. 12:1-2]
Abram followed God’s command, and began a journey which eventually led to his becoming the father not only of Judaism, but of all three monotheistic traditions. I have often wondered what it would take for a 75 year old man to leave everything he knew behind him for a mysterious future. In a world which was not as fluid and mobile as today, Abram had to leave almost everything and everyone he knew: his homeland, his clan, his physical home. At any age, these are the environmental factors which provide us with safety, security and comfort. Where does a man find a reservoir of trust deep enough to take such a risk at the age of 75?
I think that I have struggled with this question because I am 21st Century American Jew. When we consider the long history of our people, only a very few generations have enjoyed the comfort and privilege which my generation takes for granted. We feel so comfortable, so secure, that we cannot imagine giving everything up for the unknown.
Yet, our fortune is also our weakness. Abram did not enjoy our privilege, he may have felt far more vulnerable than we. We certainly know that he did not have any children, and therefore, uncertain hopes for the future. Perhaps Abram was ready to hear God in ways we are not. Perhaps our comfort is like a drug, dulling our senses and our motivation to change and grow.
Lech Lecha is a spiritual example of what personal trainers call the instability principle – the idea that we grow stronger when we introduce instability into our workout routines, forcing our core muscles to compensate. In requiring Abram to leave all that was familiar in his environment behind, God created spiritual instability – which was absolutely necessary if Abram were to develop the spiritual strength necessary to change the world.
Today, we have more physical luxury than any generation in the history of our planet: through supermarkets we have access to a wide range of food beyond the reach even of monarchs only a few generations ago; our homes are heated and most have air conditioning; we travel in ease by land, sea and air; we have the world at our fingertips through the internet. Yet, with all of this, we are also more and more spiritually disconnected, and we are losing our moral compasses. We live in echo-chambers where we only hear opinions we agree with, and we dehumanize those with whom we disagree. We are polarized, outraged, afraid – and hanging on to everything that seems safe and familiar.
Those who stayed in Abram’s homeland were left behind, and each year with this week’s parasha, God calls again: lech lecha. Perhaps we could all do with a little more spiritual instability, and the will to use it for a higher purpose.
Hi there! I am the senior rabbi at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland, where I have served since 2016.
(c) copyright 2018 by Rabbi Gary Pokras