Lekh Lekha

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. – Genesis 12:1

New beginnings require breaks with past. Before Abram can become Abraham, he must leave behind those things that have allowed him to prosper, formed his identity and protected him up to this time. The fulfillment of Abram’s destiny, to become the common ancestor of Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, requires a series of actions that will test him physically and psychologically for years to come.

Go forth from your land. Abram holds considerable wealth in animals and people. Unlike his silver and gold, to amass and sustain them requires sufficiently fertile and secure land to provide continuous food and water supplies. Leaving Haran for an unknown destination, Abram risks their lives through starvation, as well as his own. Soon after setting out, famine will force him to go to Egypt in search of food.

And from your birthplace. Abram’s identity has been formed since birth by the people of Ur. As an adult, he lives with the security of being known as Sarai’s husband and his father’s son. After parting with others with whom he has always shared a worldview, Abram and his extended household will become another group of migrants, strangers with foreign customs and no standing among the peoples whom they encounter.

And from your father’s house. Abram’s patrilineage (beit av) is his primary source of protection. Just as he is obligated to the uncles and male cousins descended from his grandfather, as well as their sons, so, too, they support him. When necessary, they must fight alongside him. Without them, childless Abram is especially vulnerable to predatory attacks by those who covet his great wealth.

The repetition of the word your followed by you in God’s instructions to Abram underscores that his selection and path are individual. Abram breaks with his past at considerable risk to himself, as well as to the people and animals that depend on him, and does so imperfectly. At the time of his selection, Noah was a righteous man…blameless in his age (Gen. 6:1). Abram, who is rich and without children, is otherwise undistinguished. Rabbinic legends attributing him with unusual precociousness notwithstanding, it is Abram’s very ordinariness that is most inspiring.

Each of us has a unique destiny. If only we had Abram’s, soon to be Abraham’s, courage and faith on our individual journeys.

2 Responses to “Lekh Lekha”

  1. emmanuel Giscombe
    February 6th, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    This was really well thought out.. Im thinking of how the writings of Paul and James work through the figurehead of Abraham, and I have found that this article was very well thought out, and very well written.. Having read Avivah Zornberg’s “The Beginnings of Desire,” and her bit on Lekh Lekha, i have truly been encouraged, entertained, and challenged by this article, not only spiritually, but the verbal challenge of explaining this idea more..


  2. Rebecca Joseph
    February 7th, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    Emmanuel – Thanks for your encouraging words. If you’d like to share your thoughts about Abraham in the writings of Paul and James, e-mail me at theparvebaker@gmail.com.

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