Tuesday, 08 Oct 2013

Written by Rabbi Menno ten Brink

Go! from the past to the present and on to the future.
Lech lecha, Go, for yourself. This is a possible translation of the two words, which have given the title to the sidra. Awram receives the task from God to leave his country, his family and his relatives, for an unknown country which God will indicate to him. It is the start of the birth of the Jewish people and in fact of all monotheïstic religions. The midrash tells the legend of Awraham who by that time is still Awram. He is in his father’s idol shop looking after the statues. He was convinced that those wooden and stone idols could not be  gods. He smashed them all, except for one large statue. The hammer he had used, he put in its ‘hands’. Then his father Terach returned and saw that his complete business was destroyed. When he asked Awram what happened, he pointed at the enormous statue with the hammer: He did it, I could not stop him. His father was outraged, “This mass of stone cannot do this, it cannot do anything!” “Ah”, said Awram: “got you! So stop selling these non-gods and start worshipping the one and only God instead.”

Awram came from idol worshippers and made his journey towards the One God who created, but was not created Himself. This world he left behind, because it was a world of images and idols, and not of real life. This world could not offer him anything, and he could not offer that world anything. He was prepared to accept suggestions for a new world and therefore was willing to leave his old world behind.   Awraham passed through the new country Kenaan (12: 6) for which the Hebrew word awor is used. The root awar, means:  ‘past’ in the ‘past tense’. When Awraham journeyed through  Kenaän, he left his past behind him. It is from the same root as ‘ever’, which means ‘bank’ or ‘side’. You leave the riverbank to cross a river, and you leave your old life behind you, even though you don’t know exactly where the future and the way in front of you will lead you. Awraham came from the other side of the river, and crossed the Jordan, entering a newly undiscovered land for himself, to start his new life. It was a radical change in his life inspired by the God he had identified.  Also much later in our history, after the 40 years of wandering in the desert, the people crossed the ever haJardayn, the bank of the Jordan river, to enter our old/new country again after so many generations. We are also the people of the ivrim, which means ‘Hebrews’ and the word Hebrew again is derived from the root ‘avar’: people who are able to leave behind, who are able to make a transition in their lives (avara), who are able to overcome their mistakes (avayra), and who are able to do this by being active (ma’vad). [Just as an aside, another meaning of this word in the pu’al is ubad: embryo, foetus, and the pi’el (ibayd): means making  pregnant.

We have the potential for new life in ourselves, over and over again, whatever happens to us in history. We are flexible and we don’t look too much to the past. We are ‘pregnant’ because of our source of inspiration, just like Awraham in his time, to be able to answer the life questions we are struggling with. We try to solve them by the actions we take. At the same time we are the embryo, which grows to become an adult and take his or her own responsibility in life. When we leave the safe haven of our mother, it is a transition from dependent, to independent. We have our own will and we should be able to distinguish between right and wrong, justice and injustice. Like Avram, growing into Avraham, we are ivrim, Hebrews, who grew into a Jewish people, leaving the past behind and moving on, even when we do not know where the future will bring us. Remember: you are always standing on the bank of the Jordan river, do you cross or do you turn back?

Rabbi Menno ten Brink
Leo Baeck College 1993
Senior Rabbi Liberal Jewish Community Amsterdam,
Dean Levisson Institute

The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.