These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[PEP Student] Parshat Lech-Lecha

Posted on November 2, 2010 by Eryn

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Reading the beginning of Parshat Lech-Lecha, I was struck by its opening words. God’s command to Avraham to leave his home, his family, his country and move to a place that God will saw him is quite incredible! But it seems that God is demanding from Avraham more than the physical and emotional separation from his home and way of life to date. So, what does God want from Avraham?

A Chasidic commentary, the Mei Shiloach, explains that God commanded Avraham to go to himself (lech lecha) — in other words, to search deep inside himself and understand who he is. But why would God want or care for Avraham to take time for this kind of personal introspection? Doesn’t God want Avraham to dedicate himself to God’s work? I think the Mei Shiloach commentary was aware of this question (at least it seems to me that he did!) and recognized that in order for a person to truly dedicate him/herself to a particular project or idea (in this case, God), s/he needs to be fully aware of her/his abilities, values and shortcomings. This understanding of one’s self can be termed ‘self-awareness’.

And yet, God bids more than self awareness.

It would seem that the God is imploring Avraham–and us as well–not only to know himself–and ourselves, but do use this self-knowledge productively. But, how are we to do this?

God later says to Avraham hithalech lefanai v’heyeh tamim – walk to yourself in front of Me and you will be complete/pure. In other words, God is teaching Avraham NOT to get caught up in his own self reflection (possibly revel in his own greatness?). Rather Avraham must walk to himself while being cognisant of the fact that he is always standing before God. If Avraham can manage to channel his self-awareness to do God’s work (i.e. knowing that he must follow God’s path), he will be pure and complete.

To my mind, this is the greatest challenge: deeply reflecting on ourselves on every level and using that knowledge to reach our potential in order to actualize God’s vision of a world of righteousness and justice. (This refrain, righteousness and justice, is frequently used to describe Avraham’s understanding of his godly mission in the world).

Naturally, as we attempt this process of self-knowing, we will each discover different attributes, obstacles and abilities in ourselves and will thusly find different ways to channel them to do God’s work.

Therefore, once we’ve acquired this self-knowledge, we must ask: how do I actualize this potential in myself in a way that is in congruence with God’s will?

How do I use my self-knowledge to stand in front of God and become pure and complete?