Every day, we face challenges. Some are relatively undemanding, while others are more difficult; and some of those challenges demand a bold and heroic response. According to experts who measure the stress levels of life events, the most the difficult challenges we face in life are death and divorce.
But after death and divorce, what is the greatest challenge one can face? According to multiple surveys, the third most stressful challenge is moving. Yes, moving. In my life, I’ve moved three times. The first time was from Toronto to New York City, where I went to study for 8 months and was lucky to meet my husband. The second time was to Montreal, where we began our relationship with this wonderful community. And the third time was moving houses in Montreal. Each move brings back memories. I remember the stress of packing, the worries of how I was going to bring our cat Emily and our twin one-year old boys on the plane by myself, and the shock of thousands of ants that invaded our new house after having the floors varnished! Talk about stress!
But moving is stressful not just because of the physical effort involved. Each time we move or go on a new journey, there is also a spiritual and emotional process that takes place. Some would call it an emotional de-cluttering. In this week’s Torah portion, God tells Abraham to go on a journey – lech lecha. He tells him to leave his land, his birthplace and the home of his family, and to go toward a new place which God will show him. Rashi* explains that the order of the words for “leaving” in the verse is significant. The Torah enumerates, in ascending order, the attachments Abraham is asked to leave. He is to leave behind his country, Mesopotamia, his birthplace and hometown Charan, and even leave behind the place with which he has the greatest emotional attachment- his parents’ house. Abraham’s sacrifices resonate with us, even today. As much as we may love a particular city or country, what we miss the most are friends and family.
But as challenging as Abraham’s move is, it also transforms Abrahams life. Let’s look at this verse again. The first words in the verse in Hebrew are lech lecha- meaning go to yourself or go for yourself. God was trying to send Abraham on a journey on two levels. What does it mean that Abraham had to go ‘to himself”?
The first journey that God tells Abraham to take is a personal journey. Abraham had already begun this journey. He had questioned the ways of the idol worshippers surrounding him, and began the search for one God. Abraham had to find out who he was on the inside. This was his lech lecha, his inner journey.
When we pack our houses during a move, we have to make choices about what we keep and what we let go. Each choice that we make forces us to decide how important particular objects are. The family vacation pictures stay- but the old decaying sprinkler goes. We sort our possessions; but at the same time, albeit less consciously, we sort through our inner lives. We decide how much of our old selves will move with ourselves as well. Every move involves the opportunity to start fresh- to be who we truly want to be. When we clear out old ideas and values, we are able to make room for new goals. And one of the purposes of Abraham’s move was to open up new emotional “space”, to find new qualities and energies to tap into. This is lech lecha – go to yourself.
The second journey Abraham had to complete was to go for himself, meaning that he needed to move away to a place where he could then live the ideals and values with which he now identified. He needed to assume a leadership role in a place where the people might be open to someone with new ideas. Once Abraham strengthens his own beliefs and values, he needs to find a community where he could live a life walking “in the ways of God”. Abraham also moves to find a place that will nurture his soul.
But the lessons of the Parsha are not just about Abraham’s life; it’s about our own lives. In actuality, we always need to be “on the move!”; not necessarily with boxes and trucks, but rather an inner movement of the soul. We have to move ourselves to find out who we are, and we have to move to find where we should be going. We need to find room in hearts to grow as human beings, and we need to find the right place where we can live as proper role models for our children, family and community.
• About Rashi: Shlomo Yitzchaki (Hebrew: רבי שלמה יצחקי), or in Latin Salomon Isaacides, and today generally known by the acronym Rashi (Hebrew: רש”י,RAbbi SHlomo Itzhaki; February 22, 1040 – July 13, 1105), was a medieval French rabbi and long highly esteemed as a major contribution Ashkenazi Jewry gave to Torah study. He is famed as the author of a comprehensive commentary on the Talmud, as well as a comprehensive commentary on the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible)