This week we read the call to Abraham to leave his homeland, his birthplace and everything he has known to follow God. Abraham, the faithful servant, obeys the command from God and he packs up his household and heads off to distant lands. The commentators of the Torah note that Abraham and many of the other patriarchs are sent on journeys. They travel far from the familiar and the secure to challenge themselves in new and different ways. For many, there was little choice: a famine, a drought, escaping from a brother who is trying to kill you for betraying him, a call from God, but whatever the circumstance each was called and like Abraham, they left. So why a journey? What was the purpose of their travel? Was it more than the chance to send back a postcard saying “having a great time, wish you were here?”
The commentaries note the unusual wording at the beginning of the portion: “lech lecha” If the Torah merely wanted to tell Abraham to “go” it could have just said “lech” but instead it adds “lecha” The Torah never uses two words when it could use one so what is the meaning of the extra word? The rabbinic commentators say that it is no accident and it must be to teach us something. Lech lecha can be translated as “go to yourself” meaning “go to become who you are going to be.” This rendering suggests that Abraham needed to go in order for him to become who he was going to be. If we look at all the people who journeyed, each of them was changed by their experience, it shaped who they were to become. The challenges they faced by being away from the familiar comfort of home, helped them to grow into the human beings they would become. It was certainly true for Abraham. His leaving shaped the man he was to be, standing up for justice, caring about the wandering, displaced people, welcoming strangers. He knew what it was like to be alone in a strange land with none of the safety nets about him. He knew what it meant to receive hospitality and care when faced with adversity. Until embarking on his journey, Abraham had lived a sheltered, relatively privileged existence. He had land and servants, he was settled and happy. But when God uprooted him, sent him out, leaving behind his support systems, his comfort zone, he found himself at the mercy of others. And from that time he knew what it was like to be homeless, to be a wanderer, at the mercy of those around him. Abraham was blessed, he never went without, but his time being uprooted from the familiar taught him the importance of treating the stranger with compassion and warmth, giving them a welcoming embrace.
Abraham could not have known that would be the outcome of his journey but it shaped the person he would become. And for many of us, adversity and trials, much as we wish we could have avoided them, have helped to make us who we are. Our journeys through life, like Abraham’s, are a mixture of dark and light. We face challenges and adversity as well as moments of joy and happiness. We cannot know what the next day will bring. Our calling is to find a way to move forward from the dark places and become the light in the world, to understand that nobody’s path is a smooth one, all of us will have to weather the storms of life. I pray that we can all walk the path finding moments and ways to be the light and to becoming who we are going to be, and to emulate Abraham’s compassion and hospitality this Shabbat and during each and every Shabbat.