Barbara Pfeffer Billauer
integrating law, policy, religion and science

Lech Lecha: ‘To Run Where the Brave Dare Not Go’

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And the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.”

So begins the third chapter of Genesis – the first step in the tortured route that leads to the establishment of the Jewish people – and of two other religions. The history furnishes the template for “the ultimate story” or as Joseph Campbells’ called it: “The Hero’s Journey: a series of stories involving a hero who goes on an adventure, is victorious in a decisive crisis, and comes home changed or transformed.”

Indeed, Rashi tells us that the journey, or the “Quest” was designed for the benefit of Abraham.

Heb. לֶךְ לְךָ, lit. go to you, for your benefit and for your good, and there I will make you into a great nation, but here, you will not merit to have children. Moreover, I will make your character known in the world. — [from Rosh Hashanah 16b, Tan.]”

And yet, G-d is sending Abraham on a journey to Canaan- which is where Abraham had intended on going all along.

Scroll back to the last lines of Noach, and we learn that Terach had taken his family to Ur of the Chaldees (currently in Iraq) having previously settled in the land of Haran, (also Iraq, but north of Ur). After his son Haran dies in Ur, the sages recount that Terach decides to uproot the clan and return to Canaan from where they originated. In other words, Canaan is where Abraham had been planning on going (with his father) all along.

Alas, as with many journeys, the family got “stuck.” Retracing their footsteps back to the family homestead in Haran, Terach decides he isn’t up to such a long haul, and replants his roots in Haran, not going on to his original destination. It is here that Abraham gets the Lech Licha message.

Rashi tells us that omitting the destination from the command allows an additional reward for Abraham, who is now blindly following the commands of his Creator – i.e., not knowing where he is going.

Except he is going exactly where he wants to go.

As the Talmud teaches  Makos 10 b and we are taught in the context of Bilaam

בדרך שאדם רוצה לילך מוליכין אותו.

In the way a human wishes to go, he is lead.

Kabbalistically, ratzon is the highest attribute of G-d, signifying intentionality and will to do something.

This phrase is expounded in Isaiah 48:17

יז  כֹּה-אָמַר יְהוָה גֹּאַלְךָ, קְדוֹשׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל:  אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ מְלַמֶּדְךָ לְהוֹעִיל, מַדְרִיכְךָ בְּדֶרֶךְ תֵּלֵךְ.

G-d will guide you in the way you will  go

Various commentators say you have to really, really want something for it to happen, (something like intentionality or the laws of manifestation in popular press). But then HKBH assists you even to the point of making miracles on your behalf.

The stop-start episode also tells us that if we really want to achieve something, G-d will give us the extra push, even when the going gets hard. But achieving something new often means giving up the old – in this case, the old way of thinking.

Did Abraham really want to go to Canaan? Perhaps not. But he certainly wanted to go with G-d, to establish His presence, to show his allegiance to the Holy One. And this was the “Derech”, the path, Abraham was given to pursue. And so he did. He almost got stuck- until he got the Divine “push” or “nudge”.

And as for me

There are those who believe the Torah is a story, which needs rectifying to correct outdated concepts. There are those who believe the Torah is His-Story, or our story — of coming into existence, which isn’t strictly accurate but should be interpreted homiletically, as a moral message, but a holy one. And then there are those who believe Torah is Emet- truth. Some of those people leave it at that and don’t delve deeper. I believe thusly, but I struggle – how can the Torah be true if it contradicts scientific precepts? The answer: it is true, but somehow we just don’t understand it well enough. Not Torah- but science, and if we look hard enough and live long enough, the truth will be revealed and we will understand enough science to understand Torah.

And so I am led.

There are many “miracles” in the Torah- and in our lives. But you have to look for them. Many of these miracles are not miracles against the laws of nature, they are what I call events that are not statistically significant – events that happen but very, very rarely; but they do happen, but they are not scientifically impossible (although they may -for a time be inexplicable: the rabies victim who recovers, the mother who lifts a car off their child, the person who revives after a long coma. As Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav said,  “to a believer, believing is seeing.”

And so it is with Sarah.

We learned Abraham was 100 when he conceived Isaac. That’s bizarre, but if Charlie Chaplin can father a child at 73 and Australian Les Colley supposedly fathered his ninth child at age 92, then surely Abraham can at 100.

But what about Sarah?

We learned in school that Sarai was 90 when she conceived Isaac.  Many use this as a predicate to show the Torah is a myth. How could a post-menopausal woman conceive? It’s a myth, they say.

Even Sarah laughed.

And so Rashi (the pre-Lurianc Kabbalist) provides the clue (the remez) ch 16 v. 17:

And I will bless her, and I will give you a son from her, and I will bless her, and she will become [a mother of] nations; kings of nations will be from her. ”

Rashi: And I will bless her: And what is the blessing? That she returned to her youth, as it is said (below 18:12): “My skin has become smooth.” – [from B.M. 87a]

 In April, Chinese researchers created synthetic monkey embryos. Four months ago, researchers created human embryos– from pre-embryonic stem cells.

Aged human cells of a certain type (pluripotent stem cells) can now be retrogressed or “rejuvenated” such that even the cells of a post-menopausal woman can be youthened to become an embryo or an egg. Once united with a sperm (for us humans this would occur in a laboratory), the aged woman would be able to “mother” a child. The technique is called IVG, In vitro gametogenesis.

We are on the cusp of this scientific discovery. But it seems it is indeed possible -knowledge we were given only a few months ago.

she-he-chee-ya-nu v’ki-yi-ma-nu
vi-hi-gi-ya-nu liz-man ha-zeh.


And the world will be better for thisThat one man, scorned and covered with scarsStill strove, with his last ounce of courageTo reach the unreachable star

About the Author
Grew up on Long Island, attended Cornell University (BS Hons.)and Hofstra ULaw School, MA in Occupational Health from NYU, Ph.D,. in Law and Science from Uof Haifa. Practiced trial law in New York City, Taught at NYU, University of Md Law School, Stony Brook School of Medicine. Currently Research Professor of Scientific Statecraft, Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC, Professor, International Program in Bioethics, University of Porto, Portugal. Editor Prof. Amnon Carmi's Casebook on Bioethics for Judges, Member of Advisory Board, UNESCO Committee on Bioethics. Currently residing in Netanya, Israel.
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