By Rabbi Judy Greenberg
This week’s parshah famously begins with God telling Avraham, “Lech Lecha,” “Go from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). God initiates this tremendous journey that leads all the way to us, in this world today.
Contemporary Torah scholar Avivah Zornberg, citing the Zohar, interprets this not as a physical journey but as a spiritual journey, an internal sojourn. She writes: “Travel - to yourself. Not to the present, resident self-- but to the self of aspiration, the perhaps unimagined self.” A hint of this journey inward is found in the words with which God addresses Avraham: Lech Lecha. The word “lech” means “go.” “Lecha,” seemingly extraneous in sending a person on a physical journey, means “to yourself.”
This parshah invites us to ask ourselves: what journey do I need to go on? What is my journey inward? What aspirations for myself do I have? What possibilities have I yet to imagine for myself?
We just emerged from the Yamim Noraim - the Days of Awe. We have just emerged from the season that invites Jews to engage in introspection, to do the Lech Lecha that unearths our dreams. New beginnings are often a time for reflection and discernment, a time that feels ripe for possibility.
But what if we aren’t in a moment of transition? Can I just wake up on a Tuesday and say, “I am ready to move toward my new self?
If we look back to the closing verses of last week’s parshah, we see that Avraham’s journey did not, in fact, begin with Lech Lecha. “Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans for the land of Canaan” (Genesis 11:31). If Avraham had already left his birthplace, albeit with his father, then the journey did not, in fact, begin when God told him Lech Lecha; the journey had already begun.
With Lech Lecha, Avraham experiences a new, deeper commitment to the journey that he is on - but it isn’t on day one.
Maybe our journeys toward growth and change do not begin with big, recognizable moments. Lech Lecha was the beginning of Avraham’s internal journey, of his spiritual commitment to God, but he had already been traveling. God told him “go” when he was already moving.
We can choose the moment when our journey begins. We can be on a path without naming it. Sometimes we are on a journey, but don’t realize it until we lift up our heads and see how far we have come.
The parshah invites us to think about what we need to do to open ourselves to the voice that says, “Get up and go to yourself.” May we hear that voice and have the courage to listen.
Judy Greenberg works at Hillel at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, as Rabbi and Senior Jewish Educator. Judy loves connecting with students as they discover and integrate their passions and identities. With Shabbat and Torah study as cornerstones of her work, Judy works to empower students to take hold of Torah as their inheritance and to use it as a force for good in their lives and in the world.