"God said to Abram, "Go forth from your native land and from your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation. And I will bless you; I will make your name great. And you shall be a blessing" (Genesis 12:1-2)
Rashi, the Commentator of commentators, was a master of putting Torah in context. We will honor his teaching as we try to do the same.
The story of Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, begins with this week's parashah. Our tradition teaches that Abram lived in a society that worshipped many gods and that Abram's belief in one God alone made him unique. God speaks directly to Abram, later known as Abraham, and instructs him to leave his native land of Haran, and leave his father's house to go to an unknown place, a land that God will show him. If Abram obeys God's commandment, God promises to make him the father of a great nation, to bless him, and to make his name well known.
Abram had to leave his homeland and his family behind In order to develop his relationship with God. He and his wife Sarai, later known as Sarah, embarked on a journey that would take them from all that was known and comfortable to a new and unfamiliar place. Abram showed great courage in his willingness to listen to God's voice and venture into the unknown.
We are fortunate to live in a country in which we are free to practice our Judaism and develop our relationship with God without fear. Nevertheless, we take many journeys in our lives. There are times when our journeys are physical. Like Abram, we actually travel from one place to another. At other times, our journeys are emotional or spiritual. As we encounter life's challenges and experiences, we change, we grow, and we find ourselves in different places at different times. Sometimes these journeys are exciting, and sometimes they are frightening. In order to achieve we must be willing to hear God's voice and explore new and unfamiliar things. Knowing that we are not alone in our journey helps to alleviate our anxiety.
Our High Holy Day Prayer Book reminds us that life itself is a journey:
"Birth is a beginning
And death a destination.
And life is a journey:
From childhood to maturity
And youth to age;
From innocence to awareness
And ignorance to knowing…
Until, looking backward or ahead,
We see that victory lies
Not at some high place along the way,
But in having made the journey, stage by stage,
A sacred pilgrimage. " (Sha'arei T'shuvah, p.283)
A Sage Speaks
The Chasidic rabbis tell the story of a man who was on a journey that took him through a forest. There he lost his way. After several days of wandering, he encountered another. To this one he appealed, "Can you show me the way out of this forest? The other replied: "I too have lost my way. Each path I have taken has been wrong. But at least I know what paths not to take. Let us search for the way out together." (Chaim Stern, Day by Day, p. 17)
To Talk About
- With older children (10+)
- Why do you think God insisted that Abram leave his homeland, and his family and travel to a new land? What are some of the qualities that Abram had that enabled him to make his journey? In what ways do you think this journey was both physical and spiritual?
- Many of our grandparents or great grandparents had to leave the place of their birth and travel a great distance in order to start a new life in America. Do some research into your family history and find out why your ancestors left their homeland.
- Think of something new that you would like to introduce to your family's Shabbat observance. This might be something as simple as singing Shabbat songs after dinner or it could be a decision not to do any work or shopping on Shabbat. What can you learn from this Torah portion that might help you start on this new journey?
- With younger children (6-9)
- Imagine how hard it was for Abram to obey God and leave everything behind and go to a new place! What kind of person do you think Abram was? Make a list of all the words that you can think of that describe someone like Abram. How many of those words describe you?
- Think about the last time you had to leave home to go somewhere or do something that was unfamiliar—perhaps it was the first day of school or summer camp. Can you remember how you felt that day? What helped you have the courage to face this new experience?
- Read the story told above by the Chasidic rabbis (A Sage Speaks). According to the rabbis, what makes a journey easier? What does this story teach you about trying new things?
Lech L’cha, Genesis 12:1-17:27
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 91-117; Revised Edition, pp. 88-117;
The Torah: A Women's Commentary, pp. 59-84