Parshat Lech Lecha

Torah Reading for Week of November 2-November 8, 2008

“The Spiritual Growth Journey”

by Rabbi Stephen Robbins
AJRCA Professor of Mystical Thought

In Parshat Lech Lecha, there is a convergence between the biblical process of growth and transformation and the contemporary understanding of the psycho-spiritual. Judaism holds familial bonding as a central Mitzvah, yet there is the seemingly paradoxical view that, in order to develop, one must sever family bonds. This teaching begins with the first test of Abraham to sever his ties with family and identity, and journey to a place that G-d will show him.

Midrash teaches that Abraham lived a comfortable life yet was spiritually dissatisfied. This paradox makes the test possible for him to have the mystical experience of transformation. The test is framed in such an unusual manner. The Holy One calls on him to “lech” (go) “lecha” (for yourself). This urgency to leave is not for G-d’s sake, but for his. The phrase can also be understood as “go toward yourself;” a psycho-spiritual principle of maturation. The rest of the verse specifies this transformative development. Firstly, “from your land”, i.e. physical location. Abraham had to uproot himself in order to find a new source of “place.” Secondly, “from your birth place”, refers to all attachments which develop from birth, like an umbilicus and must become a psycho-spiritual cord that nourishes and sustains us in the journey. Lastly, “from your father’s house”, refers to the foundation of psycho-spiritual identity. He is no longer self identified as the child of his parents, their values and spiritual traditions. He must journey to the unknown, which provides new sources of identity and attachment, transforming him into a “blessing” for others.

From all of this, we learn that spiritual development cannot be found in the security of the familiar. Rather, it provides a base for psychological development and a starting place for the journey. The journey transforms us into the vessel of G-d’s intent so that we can pursue our unique self.

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