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Parashat Lekh Lekha

by Noam Raucher | Published on October 14, 2010

Apartments in Jerusalem are not meant to hold more than 10 people at once. Yet I found myself tightly packed into one, sitting on the floor, with 75 other people preparing for an overnight trip into walled-off Bethlehem — a place, I also found, was even more cramped than a Jerusalem apart­ment. Just after I’ve broken my kneecap in the process of tucking my legs so I can sit “Indian-style” we begin to talk about “feel­ings”. Great, so now I’m crammed into a small Jerusalem apart­ment, with way too many guests, I’m thirsty, and group therapy is about to begin. 

The conver­sa­tion began slowly, focusing on each indi­vidual and their unique contri­bu­tion. As a group of American students spending the year in Israel studying in Yeshivot of some kind, or taking a year off through various univer­si­ties and grad­uate schools, we’ve been asked to provide our hopes, fears, and to iden­tify someone who would be proud of us for venturing out to what we might consider “uncharted territory”.

Some people stated fears like: phys­ical harm, emotional harm — like losing a love of Israel, what our parents might think of our partic­i­pa­tion, what we might think of the people we meet and vice versa. And we also spoke about our hopes and dreams: Hopes that we will obtain a better under­standing of this current conflict, that we will learn and be able to educate from it, and that we will be able to find ways of bringing peace to the lives of others as well as our own. 

As it appears to me, it is not surprising that we have our fears coupled along­side our hopes and dreams as they all interact with one another. Our dreams give us hope and moti­va­tion, yet our fears, somehow, can prevent those dreams from ever coming to fruition.

Believe it or not, but this is the same situ­a­tion that we find Abram in at the begin­ning of parashat Lekh Lekha. God says, “Go, for your­self,” go from what you know to be most familiar, your own home for instance, and encounter a new place that I will show you. God sweetens the deal and promises him a dream– he’ll be a great success! 

And Gd said to Abram: “Go, for your­self, from your country and from your birth­place, and from the house of your father’s to a country that I will show you. I shall make you a great nation, and I shall bless you, and I shall make your name great; be a blessing!” (Bere’shit 12:1–2). 

So, Abram does just that, he packs up his family and personal posses­sions, and goes forth. Yet the fact remains that this plan isn’t as simple as it sounds because Abram, like the rest of us, is still human. Because he is human, on the way to Egypt he has a fearful reve­la­tion and says, “I might actu­ally get killed doing this.”

And when he came close to entering Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman of beau­tiful appear­ance. When the Egyptians see you, they will say”; ‘this is his wife’; then, they will kill me, but keep you alive.” (Bere’shit 12:11–12).

This state­ment is not mere hyper­bole; Abram really believes his life is in danger.

The inter­esting part about Abram’s resolve is that he doesn’t back down. He doesn’t stop, or turn around, that isn’t part of his goal in this circum­stance. Because he is human he could have easily said, “forget it, this isn’t worth it” but he doesn’t, he just continues on. 

You see, the point of our parashah and the reason why we all crammed ourselves into a small Jerusalem apart­ment are one in the same; the ability to pursue our hopes and dreams despite the fears coupled with them. If you want those dreams and hopes to feel tangible, then you must not let the fears coupled with them to para­lyze you. You must continue to encounter new things, even the things that might frighten you.

We aren’t the only ones who know it either. Rashi, a French, medieval, and one of our greatest commen­ta­tors, knows this well because he teaches that Lekh Lekha is not just about going for your­self — like you would to the grocery store or to the movies — it’s not mundane. Rashi knows that going for your­self, in a circum­stance like this, when it comes to getting even one step closer to fulfilling your dreams, is about personal benefit. Rashi further explains that in Abraham’s case, just like in ours, it is to our advan­tage to encounter all that we might be unfa­miliar with, and all that might terribly scare us in the name of under­standing and actu­al­izing our hopes and dreams. I’ve used Abraham here instead of Abram delib­er­ately because at the conclu­sion of this parashah, this chapter in his life, he is not only closer to the dream that God has promised him, but has a different name — a different iden­tity — all because, I believe, he went forth in the first place. His new name was part of the reward he received for having taken the first step.

Ultimately, however, even with a public state­ment of our fears, hopes and dreams, they remain private. In this context we must look at one other moti­vating factor behind this oppor­tu­nity to encounter, which is the pride that it offers. After we expressed our fears and hopes we added a moment to confess who might be proud of us for partic­i­pating in this program. I was surprised to find that in a room full of spir­i­tu­ally and reli­giously engaged Jews, Jewish educa­tors, Yeshiva and Rabbinical students, myself included, not one person mentioned that they thought God was proud of them for going. Why not?

I have to believe that God is proud of us for this. He/She/It has to be because the fears and hopes and dreams that we have all admitted to, all belong to God as well. Our fulfill­ment of the dream is also God’s fulfill­ment of the dream. And the least that God asks of you, is the least you need to ask your­self — lekh lekha – go, if for nothing else, than for yourself.

Noam Raucher is currently in-process for ordi­na­tion from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. He partic­i­pated in Encounter trips in 2007 and 2008 when living in Jerusalem, both as a partic­i­pant and group facil­i­tator in Hebron and Bethlehem. You can see his pictures from his Encounter expe­ri­ences on his Facebook page. Noam is expecting his first child with his amazing wife, Tamar.

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