Lech Lecha: society, family, and self


It has been eighteen days since the end of the High Holy Days. Yet life has already found a way for us to recede into old habits. One would presume that the transformative energy of the High Holy Days would be enough to sustain us, but it is not. It is, therefore, serendipitous that we receive a blueprint to personal change in the third week of the new Torah cycle.

Vayomer HaShem el-‘Avram, lech-lecha me’artzecha umimoladt’cha umibeit avicha;
el-ha’aretz asher ar’eka.

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛
מֵאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ
אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ׃

Lech Lecha opens with G-d commanding Abram, who was seventy-five-years-old, to undertake a remarkable journey that culminates in the birth of a nation. The Eternal One said to Abram “Go forth from your land, your birthplace, your father’s house, to the land that I will show you”[1]. Why would The Eternal describe, in three different ways, where Abram must depart from but not offer any clues about the destination? When providing directions, the convention is to provide as much information about the destination, not the point of departure.

Rabbi Simon Jacobson explains[2] that in Lech Lecha, the Torah introduces us to the three levels of subjectivity – society, family, and self – that we need to leave behind when setting out on a journey of self-discovery. Your land is the first level of subjectivity and represents societal influence. Your father’s house is the second level and represents parental influence. The third level is your birthplace and signifies our self-interest.

Confronting our biases enable us to change and reach our ultimate potential. What personal philosophies, informed by our upbringing (parental influence), limit our ability to take action? Why do we accede to peer pressure (societal influence) for acceptance? To what extent are we motivated by our self-interest (self-influence)?

Life is a journey. Personal transformation requires that we examine the assumptions we formed in our proverbial land, father’s house, and birthplace. Reflecting on these levels of subjectivity is the beginning of a continuous growth cycle of raising our awareness, and ridding ourselves of the influences that hold us back and finally becoming our whole self.

Shabbat Shalom
LeRoy Barnes

[1] Genesis 12:1, The Torah – A Modern Commentary (Revised Edition), Union for Reform Judaism

[2] 60 Days: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays, Simon Jacobson

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