Go From Your Land

Before we embark on our journeys in life, we should go to ourselves and reflect on our potential and our missions and goals.

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Provided by Hillel's Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning, which creates educational resources for Jewish organizations on college campuses.

In this week's Torah portion, Lekh-L'kha, the third portion in the book of Genesis, God speaks for the first time to our ancestor Abraham (whose name was still Abram at the time). The first sentence of this Parashah (Genesis 12:1) draws much attention from the commentators. "God said to Abram: 'Go from your land (Lekh l'kha m'eretzcha), from your relatives, and from your father's house to the land that I will show you.'" Thus begins the journey which will lead Abraham to find the land of Canaan, the Land of Israel that is the destination of the Jewish people throughout the Bible and even today.

A look at the Hebrew in this sentence, however, reveals a peculiarity. The word "Lekh" is the command, second person form of the word, "L'lekhet"--"to go." The next word, "l'kha," is an article which tells us that the previous word is meant to be in the second person (for example, "Ten l'kha" would mean "give to you"). Since the form of the verb "to go" the Bible uses is already in the second person form, the word "l'kha" is superfluous. Commentators offer various meanings of this extra article, translating the sentence as "Go for yourself," "Go by yourself" or "Go to yourself."

Rabbinic tradition teaches that God's commandment to Abraham to leave his home is one of the ten tests he is presented during his life. Some of the other tests, such as the binding of Isaac and the commandment to circumcise himself when he was 99 years old, seem to be the defining moments in Abraham's life. However, when Abraham is referred to later in this week's Parashah (14:13) as "Ha-Ivri" (literally, "The Hebrew"), our sages teach us that the word "Ivri" is a reference to the word "avar," from "l'avor" - "to cross over;" the Bible is referring to Abraham as "The one who Crossed Over."

Here, it seems Abraham's defining characteristic is that he crossed over the Euphrates to go to Canaan as God had commanded him.

Your Torah Navigator

1. Why do you think God's first commandment to Abraham is to leave his home? How will this help him fulfill his mission as the spiritual founder of the Jewish people?
2. How does the meaning of "l'kha" in the first sentence change the sentence in each of its possible meanings (Go for yourself, Go by yourself, Go to yourself)? Can you make an argument for each of these possibilities being a "correct" reading?
3. Why would some of our sages consider this step in Abraham's life even more defining than some of the other climactic moments he experiences later?

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Joel Lynn previously served as the director of Goucher College Hillel.