And Hashem said to Avram, “Go (to) (for) yourself, from your land, from your birth place, from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. (Breishis 12:1)
While discussing where to begin our studies, Mishne, Talmud, Zohar, Ethics, Midrash, Chumash, you name it, a new student declared a little too boldly, “Well, I read the Bible already!” I asked him if he had any questions and when he told me coldly, “No!” I suggested we begin here. So we started to decode the first words spoken by The Almighty to Avraham, words that launched Jewish History and still reverberate powerfully today.
I asked the initiate what was being said in that phrase mentioned above and he thought for a moment and said confidently that Avram was being told to “make aliyah”. I suggested we take a closer look and we ask a number of questions:
1) Is there more emphasis on where Avraham is going to or coming from? 2) Why not tell a person where he is going? 3) What is the word “lecha” “(to) or (for) yourself” doing there? 4) Why does he have to leave three layers of location? Wouldn’t one suffice? 5) Why is he being asked to leave in the opposite order from the larger to the smaller of the concentric circles?
Let’s look at the last question first. If we would put 3 tennis balls in a can and number them as they go in, the first one to exit the can would be #3, then #2, then #1. So it is when the nurture aspect of the human personality is being formed.
The first and most enduring impact comes from the home. To the child his mother and father are the sun and the moon. They are the center of his universe. Somehow their attitudes and actions etch deep lines on the subconscious mind of that budding character. Their fears and loves, unfounded and real, are transferred and amplified in the heart of that child at a time when he cannot understand or defend himself against what is happening. Many spend their lives on the couch trying to articulate and discover the limiting fears that are buried there in the basement of their minds.
The next potent force that gives shape is the grand fabric of the social milieu. Parents are immediately dethroned when kids perceive that other kids are getting sweeter snacks or dressing cooler. Everyone wants to and strives to fit in. Where we grow up, in which community, makes a huge difference as to what we consider success. That picture of the cool or the good provided by a peer group impacts profoundly the type of life investments we will make, in terms of education, love, personal ambition etc.
The third factor is the political and economic environment in which we happen to live. There is a different vision of what’s possible if one grows up in pre-war Poland or under a communist regime or during the 90’s in the USA. It’s not so easy to shift gears later in life if one has gotten used to a certain approach to achievement and now finds the world around has changed.
Where is there room for the individual who is being acted upon by all these imposing forces? The person may seem to be like a button on the end of a rope that is being shaken violently. All of the psychological, sociological, and political economic factors together practically program our choices in a most predictable way. Qualified experts with a detailed profile could probably anticipate within a narrow margin what type of car a person will drive, whether their marriage is likely to succeed, or for whom they are likely to vote. Where is the free will of the person?
Under the rubble, when all these giant forces are quieted down is a small soft voice. It’s the most unique and powerful portion of our selves that wishes to express itself amidst all the noise. Avram was told by Hashem, to go to yourself, discover what your true nature is, transcendent from the determining forces of society and family. Who would you be, if you didn’t know who you were supposed to be?
If you are able to stop being acted upon you can activate. When you discover the way to unlock your own true heart then you have the master key, working backwards, to impact your family, neighborhood, and all of human society in a blessed way. You will no longer be a victim of circumstances but a manifestation of your good destiny. In that pure realized state of being the Avraham within, yearns continuously, faces daily, and is magnetically drawn closer “to the land that I will show you.”
Text Copyright © 2002 Rabbi Label Lam and Project Genesis, Inc.