It is one of the most dramatic callings in the Torah, some might suggest the beginning of Jewish history; Lech Lecha – Go forth to find your essence.
Yet on closer reading the journey had already begun, – to that very destination.The penultimate verse of Noah, 11:31 tells us that;
“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; on arriving to Haran on the way, they settled there.”
Whilst Terah and company did not make it to Cannan, the trek had indeed begun. Rav Adin Steinsaltz z’l in his commentary on the Tanakh ( HaTenach Hamevuar ) expounds that it appears unclear why they took on these travels, highlighting the staggering distance of over 1,000 km from Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) to Israel, most of it being through desert. Was Terah the first Zionist? All this clearly makes the opening summons of this week’s portion of Lech Lecha puzzling, 12:1
“Go forth from your native land, your birthplace and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”
Avram and Sarai had already left their native land and as such their birthplace and as a married couple presumably Terah’s house.
Later in the portion the enigma becomes even more perplexing. In the imposing “Brit Bein HaBetarim” the covenant in which God assures Avram regarding the destiny of his descendants – They would be strangers in a land where they would become oppressed and enslaved. But ultimately, God would redeem them, and they would inherit the Land of Canaan (the Land of Israel). Almost evoking the iconic language of the Exodus that we recite in the Shema;
אֲנִי יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם֯ אֲ֯שֶׁר הוֹצֵֽאתִי אֶתְכֶם֯ מֵ֯אֶֽרֶץ מִצְרַֽיִם לִהְיוֹת לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים֯ אֲ֯נִי יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם֯:
I am the Lord, your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord, your God.
..אֲנִ֣י יְהֹוָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר הוֹצֵאתִ֙יךָ֙ מֵא֣וּר כַּשְׂדִּ֔ים לָ֧תֶת לְךָ֛ אֶת־הָאָ֥רֶץ הַזֹּ֖את לְרִשְׁתָּֽהּ׃
“I am the Lord Who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to assign this land to you as a possession.”
Again Avram left Ur Casdim with his father Terah. It was he that took them out.
So which of the stories actually occurred? Might we suggest that both did? Moving out of a familiar, homely culture takes more than a relocation, especially when the destination is a ‘state’… of mind, an identity, a mission with a purpose that will change and enhance the way we live, not just where we live. That is conspicuously relayed through the enigmatic instruction with its unmistakable lack of details regarding the destination. These instructions are clearly not the navigation travel guide we have become familiar with, if not reliant on. This is indeed, as the two astounding opening words indicate, lech lecha , a journey to oneself, one’s very essence. How remarkable that the opening bars of the symphony that becomes our story tells of the journeys focussed on the soul rather than the soil.