JTS Torah Commentary
Parashat Lekh L'kha 5767
Genesis 12:1 - 17:27
November 4, 2006 13 Heshvan 5767
This week's commentary was written by Rabbi David Hoffman, Senior Rabbinic Fellow, JTS
Imagine the following request: leave your home, your family, everything that you know and cherish and go — completely walk away from the world of your ancestors. And if that was not difficult enough, then imagine being asked to separate yourself from your future, from the world of your children.
Such was the life of Abraham our forefather.
Martin Buber, the great philosopher, notes that the phrase — "lekh l'kha" — "Go forth, leave" occurs only on two occasions in the entire Bible. Both times this divine command is addressed to Abraham, and Buber suggests that the two times this phrase appears serves as important book ends for Abraham's life.
The first time God speaks to Abraham, God calls out — "lekh l'kha" — "Go out and leave your past." God's demand comes before any relationship is established between God and Abraham. These are the very words that begin their relationship. God says to Abraham in essence, "Pick up and leave your country, the community that you have known all your life, your family and 'Go.' Leave everything that has been in your past and that has made you who you are — your friends, your community, your family and go to a land that I will show you! What I offer you in return is a promise," God says. "A promise that I will give you children and make you into a great nation that will surpass in number even the stars! Abraham," God promises, "I will make your name great and the world shall experience blessings through you and your children."
The second time God sends Abraham out with the command, "lekh l'kha," occurs at the end of Abraham's life. God demands that Abraham let go of his dreams and the hopes for the future that God had promised! The second time Abraham hears the words "lekh l'kha" "Go out," God tells Abraham to take his beloved son Isaac — the son through whom God has promised Abraham such a glorious nation and future — and kill him. This demand constitutes the cancellation of the promise. With the second "lekh l'kha" Abraham is asked to let go of his hopes for a future that has kept him going all these long, hard years.
Abraham has been asked to walk away from his past and let go of his dreams for his future.
What happens when we are asked to put aside our personal histories and all the narratives from our past that, perhaps, keep us imprisoned? What happens when we are simultaneously asked to give up the scripts that we have written about our futures? "I thought I would be a partner at this point in my life. I thought my children would be... I thought I would be ready for retirement. I thought I would be married." We all have scripts from our pasts and for our futures.
God asks Abraham to put down these scripts and just be. Just be present in the moment. Don't think about your past or your future — just appreciate the blessings of this moment that may never occur again.
And it is at this moment, Buber suggests, when Abraham learns how to be present in his own life — not encumbered by future hopes or his personal past — he then can most deeply feel God's presence.
I submit that this is one of the challenges that Abraham's life offers us. Can we put down our scripts for ourselves, our families, and children and be present, really present for our lives and the people we love?
Abraham's life suggests that this is the key to our ability to most acutely see and appreciate all the great blessings God has given each one of us.