Lech L'cha 5777 - 2016, Blessed and Blessing

Post date: Nov 11, 2016 3:39:04 AM

I was named after my Nona (grandmother) z"l, who passed away just last week. Being so fresh, I am particularly sensitive to a phrase we Jews use when speak of the deceased, "May their memory be a blessing." This is the meaning of the abbreviation, z"l, which I just used, which stands for "zichronah livracha".

This week, we read parshat Lech L’cha ("Go forth"). Many think of this as the beginning of the people of Israel – the beginning of the Jewish people.

The LORD 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).

This parsha is filled with excitement, even beyond God’s famous words to Abram. After Abram agrees to follow God, he and his wife Sarai travel to Egypt. Worried about their safety, Abram tells the Egyptians that Sarai is his sister, and the implication of the story is that she stays the night with Pharaoh, in return for safe passage through the land. Pharaoh is outraged when he finds out Abram has lied, and sends them on their way.

Abram then continues to travel, moving through Sodom and Gomorrah, and seeing the wickedness there. He rescues his nephew, Lot, from which we derive the Jewish imperative to rescue any of our brethren in captivity. (This is the principal that motivated the birth of HIAS, the organization that rescued my family from Egypt.) Along his travels, Abram questions God’s promise to make a great nation from his lineage, as he has no children. Sarai tells Abram to go to their maid, Hagar, and she bears a son – Ishmael.

Most striking to me when reading this parsha was the idea of a journey. Certainly this is how the parsha begins – with Abram following God on a literal journey. The parsha also ends with a journey – that of entering parenthood. Debbi Friedman composed a song, based on the words of God to Abram that set off this first journey. The lyrics are:

Lechi lach – to a land that I will show you.

Lech l’cha – to a place you do not know.

Lechi lach – on your journey I will bless you.

And you shall be a blessing – lechi lach.

The exact words in the Torah are lech l’cha, which can be translated better as “get yourself and go.” Lechi lach is the feminine version of this commandment, as it might be said to a woman.

What I love most about Debbie Friedman’s words is it captures so simply, the twin ideas of being blessed as you go on a journey, and also being a blessing to others. Sometimes, I think this can be the most difficult part of embarking on a journey, either actual or metaphorical. In some ways, traveling along an unknown path – a place we do not know – requires from us a certain amount of selfishness. We must guard ourselves, look out for our own well being. When we are setting out on a new path, there are so many unknowns, and so much anxiety. To keep safe and sane, we must, to some degree, turn inward, to husband our resources and worry about ourselves.

On the other hand, journeys allow us to experience that which is new, and those whom are other. At this point in the life of our nation, what can be more important than a willingness to experience, appreciate, and understand those who are different from ourselves? A journey requires exactly this, too – focusing on all that is new, and all that is different. We must, in this way, become selfless, and give up our own comfort in order to experience all that the journey has to offer.

To be blessed, and also to be a blessing – these are the dueling objectives of our journeys. While we cannot neglect our needs, our worries, and our fears, we also must not be so consumed with our own emotions, so as to forget the needs of all of those we meet along the way.

As we move into this new and challenging journey as American Jews, may we all be blessed, and may we all be a blessing to those in our midst.

-Yvonne Asher