Jan Provoost, "Abraham, Sarah and the Angel," the Louvre
This week we read the Torah portion of Lech Lecha, which includes God’s great commandment to Abram, "lech lecha mei’artzecha umimoladetcha umibeit avicha—leave, go from your country and your homeland and the house of your father, to a land that I will show you." It is the beginning of monotheism, the belief in one God; it is the beginning of Judaism; and it will prove to be the beginning of our connection to the land of Israel as well. It is a dramatic and powerful moment.
The fascinating thing about Lech Lecha is not that God commands Abram—later to be renamed Abraham—to leave everything he has known. After all, if he is to create a new religion and remake belief in our world he will need to leave polytheism and a pagan society that doesn’t recognize the concept of supreme justice and divine power, a corrupt, dishonest, and ethically failed civilization. If you want to live a life of goodness and blessing, sometimes you need to leave home to do it.
So Abraham picked up and left the sophisticated, morally challenged city-states of Babylon. He journeyed outward to find God and found a new religion. That journey of differentiation was pivotal to all human history. If Abraham doesn’t do what God commands, there is no Judaism—or Christianity, or Islam, or monotheism, or really Western Civilization at all. He eventually becomes, as God promises, a blessing to all humanity, but it will take quite a few years.
What’s most fascinating about Abraham’s actions in this week’s Torah portion of Lech Lecha is that, after God commanded him to go, he simply went without argument or controversy. That strikes me as a very un-Jewish approach. After all, the essence of our culture seems to be argument and discussion. If you were directed to leave everything you had ever known, and told to move somewhere unspecified, wouldn’t you at least complain a little? And please don’t think that Abraham is incapable of arguing with God—in fact, he proves in next week’s Torah portion that he will argue and bargain with God to the last degree, as he does when trying to defend the few righteous people of Sodom and Gomorrah.
No, something else is at work here: the essential understanding that we all have that sometimes we just have to move on, leave what we know and embrace the journey. In order to fully realize who we can become we must first leave who we have been.
It’s an exciting, exhilarating, daunting prospect—challenging, yet essential. And when we choose to take the first steps we may, like Abraham, reap rich rewards.
Please join us this Friday night (if you are in Tucson) for the Inaugural Shabbat for our new Congregation Beit Simcha. Services are at 6pm at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona in the Pozez Room; it's just north of the JCC on River Road.