A Change of Scenery Changes Us

This week we read the third portion in the book of Bereshit, Genesis, Lech L’cha, from the first sentence. Lech L’cha means, “go, go forth, go for–or to–yourself.”

As Freud is famous for saying, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” and while from a linguistic standpoint, the phrase lech l’cha can simply mean, “go,” and nothing more, usually when something in the Torah seems redundant, there’s a reason.

Here I think God telling Abram to “go to /for yourself” is significant. What often gets forgotten when we read this, is that at the end of last week’s reading–Noah–Abram, his father Terach, his brother Nachor and nephew Lot were already on their way towards the land of Canaan, where God would eventually take Abram, from their native Ur of Chaldees. They had stopped along the way in Haran, where Terach died.

I can’t imagine God simply telling Avram to continue this journey, and the language used, to leave his “land, birthplace and father’s house” certainly suggests that this is more than a physical change of scenery. Abram needs to leave behind everything that’s familiar in order to become the person he needs to be. And his wife, Sarai, whom the biblical narrator had already told us was an akarah, a childless woman, needed to undergo a type of transformation as well.

In the 2,000 year-old Hindu text Bhagavad Gita (Song of God), Krishna tells the warrior Arjuna, “Look to your dharma.” Dr. Steven Cope, who weaves this ancient text with modern stories in his book The Great Work of Your Life, says that the word “dharma” can be translated in many ways, including religious and moral law, sacred duty, and perhaps, true path.

By Lech L’cha, going forth for or to one’s self, we open ourselves to possibilities. Abram and Sarai needed to go to their true selves; to go with and towards God. As we read in the parashah, God changes their names to Abraham and Sarah, adding the Hebrew letter hey, which adds God’s name to theirs.

We don’t always know where life will take us. The word akarah, which means “a barren woman,” also means “uprooted.” Interestingly, Sarah doesn’t conceive and bear a child until she has been uprooted from her original place, and transplanted into another. There, with God’s presence, they flourish.

We all have Lech Lecha moments throughout our lives. May we grow from them, and may we be mindful of God’s presence in our lives as we do.

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