Lech Lecha: Being a Blessing
Shlomo Carlebach, alav hashalom, used to say that if we knew that Moshiah was going to be at Madison Square Garden tomorrow, most of us wouldn’t go, because either we were too busy to get away, we didn’t really believe it, or we simply didn’t need to bother. And that is what Parashat Lecha Lecha, is about, being willing to lech, go. The narrative is one of mysterious promise given to an obscure figure (we know little about father Abraham yet) who is chosen to birth a new world.
What we do know is that when Abraham was called: Go-you-forth from your land, from your kindred, from your father’s house, to the land that I will let you see, he was no tangled-haired youthful idealist. Well into middle age, he was rich, well-connected, and powerful. What we don’t know is what moved him to give up his privileged place in search of the unknown. Did he have inchoate longing and discontent a material world couldn’t satisfy? Or was he tempted by the promise of being blessed and being a blessing?
The other puzzle is, why Abraham? Surely in ten generations others had figured out that worshipping a piece of wood has its limitations. Maybe his greatest hiddush [new idea] wasn’t monotheism. Rather, it was his demonstration of being willing to take a long, indeterminate journey “in search,” as Aviva Zornburg writes, “of a realization of self.” After our season of introspection, these words draw us near for we too have been called to leave the comfort of the status quo in order to find blessing.
Abraham and Sarah leave Haran, but this is not like the exile of Adam and Eve, nor like the expulsion of Noah’s generation. This is the necessary cosmic displacement that leads us from the false, empty place to the Place, Makom, i.e. God’s name. The pair learn the Torah of not-knowing when they are sent forth with: I will make a great nation of you and will give-you-blessing and will make your name great. Be a blessing! I will bless those who bless you, he who curses you, I will damn. All the clans of the soil will find blessing through you!”
Without more than this, Abraham and Sarah to travel to the place God will show them. As they take the lonely, and sometimes seemingly endless journey within oneself, they show how the loss of external power is often requisite to finding personal power. And in this search for realization of self, the first Jews will find God. Whether we translate “lech lecha” as “go-you-forth”, “go to yourself, i.e. into yourself, or “go for yourself, i.e. for your own benefit, we hear a God who is trying hard to move people comfortable in their lives to take the risk to dig deeper and reach higher.
Five times we hear God invoke the word “blessing” in the pitch/promise to Abraham. Five times in the creation story we hear the word “light” repeated. Light helps birth a new universe, and blessing helps birth another world, the world of our people. Blessing in Hebrew is bracha, connected to the word, brecha, a spring of water. As water flows to many, so shall the blessing given to Abraham and Sarah flow from heaven throughout the world. Breach is also related to breach, or knee. We bend the knee to pray as a posture of obeisance and humility. Blessing requires both knowing the power and source of the “spring”, and it also depends upon having humility, which comes from setting forth into an unknown land and leaving everything behind. Aaron means crossroads, a place of decision, and Abraham is blessed by making the right choice.
Abraham and Sarah are more than blessed, they are commanded to be blessing in the world. All beginnings are dark and how things and people are born is often messy. When I’m writing, my desk is chaos, with open books, scribbled notes, and papers spread on every flat surface. Then the delightful day comes when the words are complete and reflect order. To keep faith that cosmos will triumph over order is what is means to be a Jew. To believe that transformation is the glory of being human is also Jewish. This portion is a good reminder every year to have faith that the long journey into ourselves and out of our comfortable lives will yield a bria hadashah, a new self.