Friday, November 07, 2008

Parshat Lech Lecha - פרשת לך לך

"Hashem said to Avram, 'Go for yourself, from your land, from your birthplace and from your father's house to the land that I will show you.' -'ויאמר ה' אל אברם 'לך לך מארצך וממולדתך ומבית אביך אל הארץ אשר אראך"
(בראשית 12:1)

There are two parts of this Pasuk that I would like to deal with. The immediately interesting part of this Pasuk is list of places that Hashem commands Avram to leave - Avram's land, his birthplace and his father's house, and where he is going to "the place that I will show you." I was studying this particular Pasuk earlier this week, and I think it was the Kli Yakar that says that when one lists where one hails from, one normally starts with the most local place and then mentions increasingly bigger areas. For example, The Old City, Jerusalem, Israel. Here however, the list order is reversed. I suggests that the reason for this is that when moving away from tearing oneself away from a place, a person notices things that he used to take for granted. Personally I have noticed many cases of American and English expatriates assuming an exaggerated persona. I believe that the reason for this is as much to do with being homesick and attempting to compensate for the inability to actually be immersed in the old country's culture as it is to play the culture card on local people. By this I mean that I will often exaggerate my Londoner accent for Israeli and American friends as it is both a talking point, and also reminds people where I come from and what kind of behaviour and customs to expect from me. It also serves to confirm to myself that I am different from Israelis and that although I have moved abroad, I am not a native. To misquote Sting, "I'm an Englishman in Jerusalem!"

The word ארץ in Hebrew means land, but it also has another connotation. The word may be read as "א-רץ," meaning "I will run." The concept of the ground in Hebrew is the place you are heading to to, what your goal is. Egypt is called מצרים, which derives from the word צר, meaning thin. Eretz Yisrael, a very thin strip of land geographically, is called "Eretz tova U'rechava." How can that be? The answer is simple enough; that Egypt was a spiritually stifling place for the Jews to live in, whereas in Eretz Yisrael, our potential is significantly "wider." It is only natural that a man once removed from his natural surroundings will pine for them, attempt to re-enact them in his mind. For this reason, Hashem first told Avram to leave behind the land. He wasn't telling him to literally leave the land first, that would be impossible! What was meant was for Avram to leave that mentality behind, to abandon it completely.

But where shall he go to? Ok, we have grasped the fact that Avram must leave behind all that he used to know, but where is he heading? The Pasuk simply says "אשר אראך - That I will show you." How can Avram go somewhere without knowing where it is that he is to be heading?

To answer this, we may look at the beginning of the Pasuk. The first two words Hashem said, "לך לך," may be translated as "Go for yourself," but it can also be rendered "Go to yourself." Or, alternatively, "Go (to) 50." 50 is known as one of the many numbers of Kedusha. The concept here is that Avram is not that he is being instructed to merely head for a different place on the map, rather he is being commanded by Hashem to go to his limit, to reach the highest spiritual level he possibly can.

Shabbat Shalom!

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