Parshat Lech Lecha
The story of the Jewish people begins this week as the Bible introduces us to Abram and Sarai. These are our spiritual parents. Every Jewish person traces their ancestry to these two. And those who choose Judaism as their tribe and faith tradition are even given the names of Abraham and Sarah as part of their Hebrew name!
The Jewish story of a unique relationship with God is outlined this week in the promise that God makes to Abraham. In parshat Lech Lecha, God calls out to Abram to begin a journey, a quest if you well in literary terms. As Joseph Campbell writes in his classic book “A Hero With A Thousand Faces”:
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won”
While Abram doesn’t enter a fantasy land, he is called to a new place, “a land that I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). The land of Canaan, the Promised Land is different than Abram’s birth place. This land of new settlement and land of a new people will be a sacred place of unique relationship between the One God and the People. This is symbolized in the parsha this week by the rite of the sacrifices between the pieces and the rite of circumcision. It is also symbolized by a name change. Abram who becomes Abraham and Sarai who becomes Sarah add the Hebrew letter Hay to their names signifying their connection to the God namedיהוה. Each of these instances in the Torah this week is part of journey to a new place both physically and spiritually.
Abraham and Sarah begin a journey of the ages in Lech Lecha. Abraham and Sarah don’t seek money or a holy grail but the promise made to them is of many descendants “as numerous as stars in the sky. In Lech Lecha we read not only of the beginning of their family with the birth of Ishmael but of the way Abraham’s nephew Lot who came with them and “all of the souls they had acquired in Haran” (12:4 ) All of these people will be part of the numerous stars or descendants of Abraham and Sarah. God promises Abraham that he will be the father of many nations and all of these births and ingathering of souls laid the foundation of this beginning.
From Ur to Haran to the Promised Land then to Egypt and back again to Canaan, they achieve many victories in this week’s portion. These victories are physical ones over kings and land and peoples and spiritual victories bound up in the promise of the covenant. Abraham battles real kings in this week’s portion. And Abraham and Sarah battle their fears of infertility as well. They battle the spiritual journey of being alone in their old age. God sets the stage first for that battle being conquered first with the birth of Ishmael and then next week with the birth of Isaac. But as the stories unfold we will see whether or not this spiritual quest for family is achieved.
Lech Lecha-you go forth. Take a chance. Take a journey. Believe in your potential. That is what Abraham and Sarah do this week by following God’s call and listening to their inner voice to leave the land and comfort they had known to follow a dream, a dream of family and children, a dream of nation building, a dream of being one with the Holy Divine Voice of the Universe. That is the message for us, for our own quest for meaning and hope in today’s world.