Parshat Lech Lecha, 5778
The powerful imperative, “Travel into yourself!” is the title of the Parsha and its opening phrase. Lech-Lecha is literally translated as “go for yourself” meaning, go for your own benefit. The Zohar translates it as “Travel into yourself,” a deeper, more specific and more complex version of “Know thyself” (γνῶθι σεαυτόν), the Delphic maxim attributed to Socrates.
Travel into yourself is not license for self-absorption. Lech-lecha – Travel into yourself is a call to find supreme wisdom within yourself by first refining your character and developing your soul. In Kabala, the individual is a microcosm of the world. Each contains within him or herself the secrets of the universe. Shimon Peres, late President of Israel said at the 2013 World Economic Forum in Davos, “When I was young, I loved telescopes. Now I prefer microscopes. The secrets in each cell are bigger than the moon.” The answers to some of the big questions that we seek outside of ourselves, lie within us and can be accessed if we have appropriately prepared our character, minds and souls.
The Zohar explains that God’s imperative to Avraham came only after years of research by Avraham in his relentless quest for knowledge about the nations of the world and global cultures.
Every primary nation and culture (originally seventy of them,) has an energetic force of its own. Kabalistically, this energy is not an outcome of its culture. Rather this spiritual energy informs national culture and is the source of national identity. Avraham utilized the ancient wisdom available to him in Ur Casdim to research global cultures, articulate their essences and understand their energies. He determined the natural geographic boundaries of each and the limits of their energy. He understood the connections between each nation and the spiritual forces that shaped them. וידע חילין די ממנין על סטרי יישובא
Then he began to study the Land of Israel. Attempting to classify it culturally and identify its energy as he had the other nations of the world, his methodology failed him. He became stuck; Israel just didn’t fit the model. All he could sense was that there, in Israel, the Even Shetiya was the point from which spiritual energy flowed to the entire world; the energy governing Israel was the energetic fountainhead of all the other national energies.
Avraham’s quest to understand the energy of Israel became more intense, but this infinite source of energy was beyond him. It was too deep for him to fathom by any intellectual methodology. He decided to move beyond the external, rational sources of Casdim wisdom that had taken him as far as they were able, and seek experiential wisdom from traveling towards Israel. He hoped that as he approached the Land of Israel he would begin to pre-sense its energy and understand it intuitively rather than intellectually. With this knowledge he may even be able to enter Israel and experience it from within.
Avraham’s audacious experiment failed him. Even as they came closer and closer to Israel, he gained no further insight into the nature of Israel’s energy and the spiritual forces that govern it. Too timid to enter a land of which he understood so little, he decided that the family should stop over in Haran and not proceed further on its way to Canaan until he could grasp its essence. (As per the interpretation of the Zohar by the 16th century Rabbi Moshe Cordovero of Safed and other Kabalistic masters.)
Avraham had not realized that the reason he was failing to comprehend the essence of Israel and its spirituality, was not intellectual insufficiency or lack of information. There are some sources of wisdom that cannot be accessed by intellect alone, no matter how brilliant. These sources of wisdom need noble character and spiritual purity to be accessed. Avraham was unsuccessful in his efforts to understand the spirit of Israel because despite his elevated level of personal character development, he was not yet spiritually refined enough to access the wisdom he was seeking. It was at this point that Hashem, having noticed Avraham’s passion for Israel and his quest to know it, revealed Himself to Avraham and said, “Lech-Lecha – Travel into yourself.” The Zohar (I:77b-78a), parsing the opening sentence of the Parsha, expands God’s directive:
“Travel into yourself to know yourself and to fine-tune yourself. Only after you have worked on your own character and refined your soul, will you be able to experience the essence and energy of the Land of Israel. Travel from your land – leave behind the sciences of the lands in which you were educated and which you are seeking to understand, for those sciences are not indigenous to your own essence. And from your birthplace – leave behind the science of astrology to understand your origin, your essence and your fate. You are not limited by the forces of astrology. Your fate is directed by God and the choices you make; you are more than a mechanistic reaction to the forces of nature. And from your father’s home – break away from regarding your heritage as the source of your future success.”
The Zohar implies that only after Avraham lets go of the limiting sources of the scientific knowledge of the time (not invalidating them, just stopping to cling to them as the totality of wisdom), will he be able to connect with a higher source of wisdom and knowledge. His tool of access to this higher wisdom is not his intellect, but his character and his soul.
Like Avraham in Ur Casdim, we today also tend to enthrone rational knowledge and academic data as the crown of wisdom. Yet, if we would just be willing sometimes to let go of conventional, rational knowledge, and travel into ourselves and open ourselves to intuitive and energetic knowledge and to spiritual wisdom, we too could access glints of knowledge beyond any quantitative limits of what we currently know. To do so, we need to do more than study external sources of data and information. We need more than brilliant minds and academic discipline. We need to be refined of character, rid of ego and silent within.
This is why God advises Avraham, Travel into yourself. Explore how to improve yourself and further refine your being. Then, once you have done so, as you approach Israel you will sense its essence and understand its energy. Terach, Avraham’s father, however, was excluded from this instruction. He would not accompany his son and daughter-in-law to Israel.
Terach’s exclusion from the second phase of the journey from Ur Casdim to Canaan is because although he travelled to Haran with his son, his intention was entirely different. Avraham was traveling to a desired destination, to Israel to understand its essence. Terach was fleeing from an undesirable place, Ur Casdim, and was happy to arrive in his country of origin, Haran. He had no existential need to go any further. God intervenes in our lives when we travel deliberately with a destination in mind and a higher purpose to pursue. He does not intervene in our journeys when we are merely fleeing from one place to another for safety, security or success without any higher meaning. So, God excludes Terach from the instruction to journey into himself and to journey on to Israel. Avraham, Sarah and Lot and their students alone, travel on to Israel where the story of the Jews begins, and the history of humankind is forever altered.