11 Cheshvan 5783

Lech Lecha: Meet and listen to the call

The recorded message: https://youtu.be/d0U5bTJDHd4

The Zohar interprets the opening words of this parashah, Lech Lecha, as “going to yourself”. “Lech” means “to go” and “Lecha” means “to yourself”. Therefore, according to mystical thought, the first crucial step in life is to go inward, within us, and self-discover what God has called us to be, to discover our purpose in life. Once we understand our God-given destiny, then our life journey can begin – with purpose and courage.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk commented: “…The essential journey that a person has to make in this world is towards himself, towards his essence. That is the whole purpose of being in the world…the essential journey is the journey of the soul towards the source of life, and conversely, making oneself requires movement; to be oneself one has to go to one’s very essence that is linked with the Creator…”

At the beginning of this week’s parashah, God commands Avram to leave his country, to leave his family and his father’s house, and to travel to an unknown land where God will make him a great nation. Avram obeys and sets out, taking with him his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, his servants and all the “souls that they made”. When they arrived in the land of Canaan, God revealed to Abram that this would be the land that his descendants would inherit. The departure from Ur was nothing more than the first lech (go), which would be followed by many others on Avram’s path.

What happened next in Genesis 12, is that Avram went down to Egypt. What did it mean for him to go to Egypt at that time? What is the message of this name?

There was famine in the Negev, and Avram was forced into finding food in Egypt. Realizing that his wife’s beauty could cause his death at the hands of the Egyptians, Avram asked Sarai to say that she was his sister. Sarai was brought to Pharaoh, but God afflicted Pharaoh and his court with severe plagues and Sarai was set free.

Egypt was called Musuru, Misir, or Masri in various languages, and Mitzraim could simply be a Hebrew transliteration of any of these names. However, let us try to understand how the name Mitzraim might be interpreted. The word מצרים Mitzraim seems to be a dual form of the Hebrew root מצר; metzar which means “trouble”, anguish, pain, narrowness. In a dual form, the word would be מצרים Mitzraim, connoting “double anguish” or “double trouble”. So, probably what Mitzraim meant to the Israelites was going down to Egypt would mean heartache and trouble. 

And yet it is to Egypt that Avram descended! Why?  The Scriptures do not describe Avram as a hero of impeccable faith or as a spiritual superman. He went to Egypt to escape the famine. However, while in Egypt, in fear for his life, he did something that is very difficult for us to justify or understand: he passed his wife off as his sister. “Please, say that you are my sister, so that it goes well for me and that, thanks to you, I can live.”

What a strange story! But the Torah never tries to make heroes of its people. Should Avram have gone to Egypt? Was it God’s will that he go down to Egypt? It was probably God’s perfect will to trust Him. However, this going to Egypt and lying about his wife exposed Avram’s lack of trust, which needed to be resolved. He might never have reached the heights of obedience and trust in God if he hadn’t gone through this harrowing experience.

Lech Lecha implies progress and advance, progress towards a final goal. How is it, then, that in reading it we find a number of episodes that imply the very opposite of “progress”? This is what is called a descent to achieve an ascent; to take momentum. Everything that happens in the world is for good. Events that appear to be setbacks or declines are actually part of the process that leads to progress, individual, national, and holistic, even if not apparent in the moment.

This incident dramatically demonstrates the moral dilemmas caused by the vast inequity between wealth and poverty and the dangers of losing faith in the face of these issues. Avram and Sarai were fleeing from famine. It may be hard to imagine being in such a desperate condition of poverty or fear, and that one would choose to submit in order to survive physically and financially. Pharaoh rebuked Avram for his deception, yet God’s response to a similar incident later in Gen 20:7, 17, showed compassion rather than judgment.

On the other hand, Avram had received a direct promise from God, “I will make you a great nation” (Gen 12:2). Did Avram’s faith that God would keep His promises, fail so quickly? Did survival really require him to lie and to allow his wife to become a concubine, or had God provided another way? It seems that Avram’s fears had caused him to forget his trust in the faithfulness of our Creator. We too often face difficult situations, convinced that we have no other choice than to do something that is considered wrong. However, having no choice is different than having the choice to make a decision that we are not comfortable with.

How futile Avram’s fears must have seemed in the light of history. To avoid a famine, Avram was forced to confront Pharaoh. The power of Egypt was not used against him, rather it secured his arrival in Canaan. In fact, Avram left Egypt wealthier than when he had arrived. But none of this was a result of Avram’s lack of faith or his “wrong” doings. It was the result of Divine grace and the care that the Creator has for all of His creation.

We have all received the order to go to the Promised Land; toward the unknown. Lech Lecha is about a much deeper connection with the Light of the Creator. It requires embarking upon a journey of self-discovery and growth, far from our familiar routine and comfort zone.

In order to be what we are to be and enjoy the blessings that God has for us, we must move onward toward a “spiritual journey”, which is not outwards to a particular place, but inward. It is going toward our soul, which is our true self.  We all have to go through this process in order to grow and to be happy. It is a key element for our maturity. Our “journeys” and searches should be focused on discovering our soul. It is our opportunity to discover who we really are.

Lech Lecha is an invitation to go within, and not outside ourselves; to observe what false beliefs about ourselves and about the world, are preventing us from being all that we can be; to be all that we are so that we can manifest God’s light in this world. By getting in touch with our soul-purpose, we find blessings, satisfaction, and fulfillment. Let’s begin today, because it is a lifelong personal path, which is traveled step by step.

The unknown is not only a new land, but it lies within our own hearts, and like that of Avram, who began to discover a faith within, it will continue to unfold on this journey.

Our sages explain Tefilla (prayer) to us as “Avoda she balev”, the service of the heart. It is the profound search to link to God not only through words spoken by others but also through those that arise spontaneously from the depths of our being. It is through prayer that we find the very useful instrument called introspection necessary in this internal search, in this process.

Going towards myself implies internalizing my way of life as a path on which I gradually learn to know my very being and what is concrete in my daily actions that affirm the presence of God.

May the Eternal help us to go toward ourselves to see the wonder of being made in His image and His likeness, to understand the importance of having an intimate connection with our essence, with the Bore Olam.

Shabat Shalom!

Sr. Alejandro Alvarado