Parashat Lekh Lekha 5769/ November 8, 2008
the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
“Go forth” – Whence and whither?
Doctoral Student in the History of the Jewish People
Parashat Noah concludes with the account of
Abraham’s family leaving
As this week’s reading continues, after the account of the
battle of the kings in Genesis 14 (the first explicitly described war to be
fought in the world) and the renewal of G-d’s promises, the Holy One, blessed
be He, says to Abraham: “I am the Lord
who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to assign this land to you as a
possession” (Gen. 15:7). We cannot help
noticing the similarity between this verse and the verse that begins the Ten
Commandments: “I the Lord am your G-d
who brought you out of the
Ben Zoma said to the
Sages: Has it not been said, “Assuredly,
a time is coming – declares the Lord – when it shall no more be said, ‘As the
Lord lives, who brought the Israelites out of the land of Egypt,’ but rather,
‘As the Lord lives, who brought out and led the offspring of the House of
Israel from the northland and from all the lands to which I have banished
them’” (Jer. 23:7-8). They answered him:
not to supplant the story of the exodus from
These parallels teach us
that just as the Israelites who left
The clue to the answer
lies in the weekly reading breaking off the story with the death of Terah, at
the end of Parashat Noah, and then resuming with a new beginning in this
week’s reading. By breaking the
narrative here the Torah is informing us that Abraham was not simply continuing
a process that had begun with Terah.
That initiative had been correct, even though it was not preceded by a
divine command. Human beings do not need
to be commanded to return home from exile; however here we have a change of
dimension: henceforth, Abraham’s
initiative receives affirmation from the Holy One, blessed be He.
Similarly the initiative taken by Moses in
that the words, me-artzekha u-me-moladetekha (lit. “from your land and
the place of your birth,” but rendered in JPS as “from your native land”) do
not refer to your land and the place of your birth, especially not in the
contemporary sense of the word. Your
land, so the midrash says, means “your district” (the midrash
uses the Greek word, iparkhia), and place of birth means
“neighborhood.” This midrash makes
an important refinement of meaning:
since your true land is the
This also explains the
seemingly illogical order of things, since, geographically speaking, when a
person leaves a given place, first he leaves his house, then his neighborhood,
and lastly his city. But emotionally and
spiritually it is hardest to sever oneself from one’s parents’ home, and next
from the neighborhood of one’s childhood or the neighborhood where one spent
most of one’s life prior to departure, and lastly from the land to which the
person is tied emotionally and culturally.
Therefore, to return to his original Hebrew
 he must go from the outer to
the inner, leaving his cultural exile first (the way of life among the other
nations) and thus freeing his soul; then parting from his emotional and
spiritual exile, thus freeing his spirit; and lastly leaving the exile of his
will, thus freeing his being. Then the
location of “the land that I will show you” became completely clear to him –
example, see Rashi on Genesis 19:3: …
and baked unleavened bread – for it was Passover.
Likewise, Genesis 27:9:
… two choice kids – was Isaac actually
served two choice kids? Rather, it was
Passover. One he sacrificed as his
Passover offering and the other he made into a savory dish.
Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer:
“From this we conclude that the essence of
that day was to be ready for Redemption.”
Therefore, as long as the Israelites were in the capacity of individuals
belonging to Abraham’s clan, they would recount the miracle of the exodus from
 This is
well-known as the meaning of
According to Exodus 2:12. This demands
further investigation in its own right, but in brief it is said that Moses was
undecided as to who deserved to be redeemed in Egypt, whether the Hebrews or
the Egyptians with whom he had grown up, therefore it says that he “went out to
his kinsfolk,” without specifying who these were.
Then, when he “saw an Egyptian beating a
Hebrew,” he decided that the Hebrews were his kinsfolk; i.e., that he felt more
brotherhood with the Hebrews. However,
after seeing two Hebrews fighting among themselves, he said to himself, “Then
the matter is known,” meaning the reason for the bondage and the failure of
brotherhood among the Israelites had become apparent, and therefore he fled to
Midian, for he thought that there he might find a sense of brotherhood among
Rachel’s family. However, what he had thought at first turned out to be correct
and received confirmation from Heaven, and he had to return in order to redeem
the Israelites from bondage to
 See Tanhuma Ekev, ch. 6, also cited in Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim par.585, halakhah 8, and in many sources of biblical commentary.
 Avot 5.16.
 This is learned from the first question discussed in Tractate Shabbat. See Maimonides’ commentary on the Mishnah, loc. sit.
 In his commentary on Gen. 11:32, also see Genesis Rabbah 39.6.
 Chapter 39, par. 9.
 See Rashi on this, where he says that this is called one’s father’s house.
meaning of this name should be investigated.
See Genesis Rabbah 42.8: He
told Abram the Hebrew (=Ivri) – Rabbi
the parallel between the first occurrence of the words, “Go forth” (=lekh
lekha), and “Go (=lekh lekha) to the land of Moriah,” in the story
of the binding of Isaac, for if we say that Abraham knew when he left Ur of the
Chaldeans that he had to go to the land of the Hebrews (as Joseph calls it,
when he was in Pharaoh’s house), what are we to conclude from the command given
Abraham, “Go forth to the land that I will show you”?
If the point of that command was that he go