This week’s Torah portion begins with the famous Hebrew alliteration “Lech Lecha.” The phrase translates as “go to/for yourself” and marks one of the first interactions God has with Abraham, the founder of monotheism. The verse continues as God tells Abraham to leave “from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you.” However, there is an obvious question here: is the verse not using redundant language by telling Abraham to leave from his land, his birthplace and his father’s house? The Jewish sages have taught us that nothing in the scripture is extraneous and that even seemingly unnecessary punctuation has meaning. So, the question remains: why does the Torah feel the need to use three different variations of the same commandment?
The answer is one that pertains to an individual’s self-growth. First we must discuss what “Lech Lecha” means. Simply read, the excerpt sounds like God is just telling Abraham to leave town. But when the phrase is broken down, it appears that there is a deeper meaning; “Lech Lecha” means “go for/to yourself,” suggesting that God is prompting Abraham to enter a journey of self-discovery, not just a nomadic adventure from land to land. God is telling Abraham to explore himself and reevaluate his life. And how does God suggest Abraham do this? By taking the action of leaving his land, his birthplace and his father’s house.
Still, why does God use three different forms of language to indicate the same idea of leaving? Each usage denotes a different barrier Abraham must overcome in order to fully “go for/to himself.” Begin with the first variation, “land.” One’s land refers to where a person settles in, has a house, a business, a sense of living security. Abraham must forgo the comfort of his dwelling place to spiritually find himself.
The next variation the Torah uses is “birthplace.” One’s birthplace refers to the society into which he or she was born. Where one lives as a child usually results in the inculcation of certain values that he or she carries on into adulthood. Thus, God is telling Abraham to relinquish the influences of his homeland and have an open mind instead. Subsequently, by letting go off societal limitations Abraham is ready to delve into a deeper journey of self-discovery.
The last variation the Torah uses translates to “father’s house.” Family is one of a person’s strongest influences; the traditions, expectations, behaviors and pressures that parents place on children have the strongest impact on children’s lives. God needs Abraham to release all the constraints his “father’s house” placed on him – not an easy task, considering Abraham’s father sold idols for a living – only then allowing Abraham to find his identity.
From this interaction between Abraham and God, a lesson can be found. In order to truly find ourselves, we need to leave our “land, birthplace and father’s house.” We must step out of our comfort zone and security, forgo the limitations of our society, and resist giving in to the familial pressure of being something we are not. We need to take risks, have an open mind and discover what we think is best for ourselves.
As winter break approaches it may be worthwhile to consider taking a trip away to help with this task. Take a break from school, work, family and Los Angeles traffic; join one of the many winter trips offered by Hillel, Chabad, and JAM, perhaps. By traveling, you can free yourself from restrictions and grow as an individual. May we all merit Lech Lecha.