I’ve got a secret for you. If you’re thinking about starting that new exercise program, or enrolling in the college course, or anything else new and scary and slightly different, now is the time. Right now. Today, tomorrow, Saturday. Hashem is telling us to do so.
Come again? You might say.
Yes, it’s true. Let me explain.
As parasha Lech Lecha opens, Hashem says to Avraham (Avram) “Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” He tells Avraham to let go of everything and to completely transform himself. He promises Avraham that if he’s able to take this absolute leap of faith, to make a huge change, to alter the course of history that “I will bless you, and make your name great, and you will be a blessing.”
For the last 12 years, I’ve connected with this parasha in the most obvious of ways. We clearly listened to Hashem’s command, following in Avraham’s footsteps both literally and figuratively. We gave up all that we knew to move to another land; we left our homes and our families for the promise of something else. Interestingly, we also followed quite literally in Avraham’s footsteps, as there is evidence that Avraham walked right here, in Neve Daniel, on his way from Beer Sheva to Har HaMoriah for the sacrifice of Isaac.
As a result of our journey, we have certainly been shown the fruits of our labor, albeit with many trials and painful separations along the way.
But most recently, I’ve been thinking about this parasha in a way that I hadn’t considered before. In the first three parashas of the Torah, Hashem sends a clear message. He creates Adam and Chava (Eve) and just as they are getting comfortable and situated in the Garden of Eden, he throws them out (yes, it’s their fault, but still). They are forced to build their own lives in a scary and unknown environment and to forge ahead. In the next parasha, Noach is similarly pushed to the limit. He shows faith in Hashem by going against everyone around him in preparation for God’s destruction of the world. He, too, is forced to abandon everything he knows and to journey on his own to create a new world. And then, in parasha Lech Lecha, Avraham is being told to do exactly the same thing.
Does Hashem just enjoy playing with us? Is he testing us?
Or perhaps, is he asking us to test our own limits and to uncover the mysteries of a full life?
Perhaps, in each of these situations he is saying “Nu? You are capable of being more than you’re showing at the moment. You can rise to this challenge. Really. Test yourself, and let’s see what great promises will open up to you.”
This idea can be relevant to us in so many areas of our lives. As we often hear, doing the same thing that we’ve always done typically delivers the same results that we’ve always had. But when we push ourselves, when we go beyond our wildest expectations, when we step out of our comfort zones, great things may await.
Are these adventures and challenges without fear? Without danger? Without downfalls? Of course not. But typically, they lead to great promise and to a more wonderful tomorrow.
So, while this parasha commands Avraham to leave his land, he might actually be saying that you should travel to that destination that you’ve dreamed about; that you should ask the girl or the boy to marry you even if it gives you butterflies; that you should get the degree that you’ve always assumed was out of your reach; that you should go for the job that you aren’t sure you’ll get; that you should recommit to that exercise program or healthy way of eating; or maybe just that you should say hi to that neighbor you’ve never greeted or bring soup to the sick acquaintance on your street.
The parasha can be seen as a great parenting tool as well. Pushing your children beyond their comfort zones isn’t always fun. But asking them to be more than they think they can be and expecting the very most from them can be rewarding for everyone. Can we promise our children that “all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you?”
But we can place wings on their backs, gently push them towards their futures and promise to be there with support if they fall. We can encourage them to see that they should go “from your land, from your relatives and from your father’s house” to whatever “land that I will show you.” Even if they don’t go in the direction that we expected or envisioned.
So many people make New Year’s resolutions on December 31st; so, too, many Jewish people view Rosh Hashanah as a time to apologize to others for what we’ve done wrong and to set goals for the New Year.
I would argue, instead, that Lech Lecha is the time to make those commitments. This is the time to consider where you’ve been going and where you want to be. Hashem is reminding us, now, a few weeks after we may have made those internal commitments and road maps for the year, that it’s time to get started.
Nu? He’s saying.