Parshat Lech Lecha
Ten generations have passed since Noach. Man has descended spiritually. In the year 1948 from Creation, Avram is born. By observing the world, Avram comes to recognize G-ds existence, and thus merits that G-d appear to him. At the beginning of this weeks Torah portion G-d tells Avram to leave his land, his relatives and his father's house and travel to an unknown land where G-d will make him into a great nation. Avram leaves, taking with him his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, their servants, and those whom they converted to faith in G-d. When they reach the land of Canaan, G-d appears to Avram and tells him that this is the land that He will give to his descendants. A famine ensues and Avram is forced to relocate to Egypt to find food. Realizing that his wifes beauty would cause his death at the hand of the Egyptians, Avram asks her to say that she is his sister. Sarai is taken to Pharaoh, but G-d afflicts Pharaoh and his court with severe plagues and she is released unmolested. Avram returns to Eretz Yisrael (Canaan) with much wealth given to him by the Egyptians. During a quarrel over grazing rights between their shepherds, Avram decides to part ways with his nephew Lot. Lot chooses to live in the rich but corrupt city of Sodom in the fertile plain of the Jordan. A war breaks out between the kings of the region and Sodom is defeated. Lot is taken captive. Together with a handful of his converts, Avram rescues Lot, miraculously overpowering vastly superior forces, but Avram demurs from accepting any of the spoils of the battle. In a prophetic covenant, G-d reveals to Avram that his offspring will be exiled to a strange land where they will be oppressed for 400 years, after which they will emerge with great wealth and return to Eretz Yisrael, their irrevocable inheritance. Sarai is barren and gives Hagar, her Egyptian hand-maiden, to Avram in the hope that she will provide them with a child. Hagar becomes arrogant when she discovers that she is pregnant. Sarai deals harshly with her, and Hagar flees. On the instruction of an angel Hagar returns to Avram, and gives birth to Yishmael. The weekly portion concludes with G-d commanding Avram to circumcise himself and his offspring throughout the generations as a Divine covenant. G-d changes Avrams name to Avraham, and Sarais name to Sarah. Hashem promises Avraham a son, Yitzchak, despite Avraham being ninety-nine years old and Sarah ninety. On that day, Avraham circumcises himself, Yishmael and all his household.
Life in the Fast Lane
"Go for yourself" (12:1)
Very soon, only the speed of light will limit our ability to communicate a thought, a picture, a sound or a sentence from one side of the world to the other, and beyond. The meaning of the word distance has changed forever.
Just as the electron has shrunk our world, so too there has been a quiet and maybe even more fundamental revolution in the way we look at traveling. We see nothing special in the fact that several hundred people can file into a large metal room and find themselves on the other side of the world in a matter of hours.
A little more than a hundred years ago, to circumnavigate the globe would have required months of arduous, dangerous and expensive effort, almost beyond our imagining. Nowadays, the major drawback in circling the earth in a plane is an aching back from sitting in a reclining chair that doesnt quite live up to its name. We have breached the last frontier. Distance has become no more than a function of time spent in a chair.
The electron and the 747 have had their impact on our culture in other ways. Our cultural mindset mandates that speed is of the essence. How fast can I get there? vies in importance with Where am I going? Immediacy has become an independent yardstick of worth. How fast is your car? Your computer?
Our age has sought to devour distance and time, rendering everything in a constant and immediate present. Now this. Now this. Now this. (Interestingly the languages of the age film and television, computer graphics are languages which have trouble expressing the past and the future. They only have a present tense. Everything happens in a continuous present.)
All of this makes our spiritual development more and more challenging. Spirituality is a path. And like a path you have to walk down it one step at a time. Your fingers cannot do the walking on the spiritual path. You cannot download it from the Internet.
Everything in the physical world is a paradigm, an incarnation, of a higher spiritual idea. Travel is the physical equivalent of the spiritual road. The quest for spirituality demands that we travel, but this journey is not a physical journey. Many make the mistake of thinking that hitchhiking around the world and experiencing different cultures will automatically make them more spiritual. The truth is that wherever you go, there you are. When your travel is only physical you just wrap up your troubles in your old kit bag and take them with you.
Spiritual growth requires the soul to journey. Our soul must notch up the miles, not our feet. The spiritual road requires us to forsake the comfortable, the familiar ever-repeating landmarks of our personalities, and set out with an open mind and a humble soul. We must divest ourselves of the fawning icons of our own egos which we define and confine us, and journey.
Lifes essential journey is that of the soul discovering its true identity. We learn this from the first two words in this weeks Torah portion. "Lech lecha." "Go to yourself." Without vowels, these two words are written identically. When G-d took Avraham out of Ur Kasdim and sent him to the Land of Israel, He used those two identical words: "Lech lecha", "Go to yourself."
Avraham experienced ten tests in his spiritual journey. Each was exquisitely designed to elevate him to his ultimate spiritual potential. When G-d gives us a test, whether its the death of a loved one or a financial reversal or an illness, its always to help us grow. By conquering the obstacles in our spiritual path, be it lack of trust in G-d or selfishness or apathy, we grow in stature. We connect with the fundamental purpose of the journey, to journey away from our negative traits and reach and realize our true selves.
We "go to ourselves."