Parashat Lekh Lekha — Go From Where You Are To Where You Want To Be

October 12, 2013
By bethmordecai
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Parashat Lekh Lekha — Go From Where You Are To Where You Want To Be

Rabbi Ari Saks

Sermon for Parashat Lekh L’kha – October 12, 2013*

Installation Weekend of Rabbi Moshe Saks

Temple Israel, Scranton PA

I want to thank the leadership team and my father, my Abba, Rabbi Moshe Saks, for extending the invitation to speak this morning about Parashat Lekh L’kha. But before I begin, I wanted to share a quick observation about my Abba, which you may or may already not know. He’s a man who loves logistics. He loves figuring out how to get from point A to point B, sometimes when you don’t even ask him to. My wife Rachel and I have developed a routine when talking to my Abba about making plans to come visit him, my Ema, and my sister Eliana. Before we tell him which dates would work for our upcoming visit, we would also work out which times of the day we’d be available to travel. In other words, we won’t just say “we’ll leave on Tuesday,” but rather we’ll say something like, “we’ll leave on Tuesday, but we’re working in the morning so we can’t leave before 1 pm.” Now keep in mind that I’m not talking about a Tuesday two weeks in advance, but a Tuesday two months in advance. Yes, we have to know exactly how busy we’re going to be on a Tuesday morning two months in advance, because if we just give my Abba a date on the calendar, he will be ready to GO, GO, GO, to schedule our flight even before we hang up the phone. Now this was more of an issue when we had to fly to visit him and Ema in Toledo and Calgary, so I am VERY excited that they now make their home in Scranton which is just a car ride away… and luckily we have our own car.

Yet though it may be something minor and something funny we joke about in the family, it is my Abba’s GO GO style, his passion for getting from point A to point B that makes this week’s Parashat Lekh L’kha, such an appropriate Torah portion for the week of his installation. Vayomer Adonai el Avram Lekh-L’kha m’Artz’kha umi-Moladetkha umi-Beit Avikha el ha-Aretz asher Ar-eka – And God said to Abram, Go forth from your land, from your birth place, from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you (Genesis 12:1). According to the medieval Spanish Torah commentator Nahmanides, the reason God needs to include all of the different places from which Abram must go forth – his land, his birthplace, his family’s home – is because Abram might be tempted to settle down before he completes his journey. As such, God is telling Abram that he should do no such thing, rather he should just GO!” That’s it, just GO, GO, GO! Like my Abba, God is not worried what Abram is doing that day or on a Tuesday in two months, he just wants Abram to GO, as if God just bought Abram’s one-way plane ticket away from his homeland before he had a chance to respond, before he had a sense as to where and why he’s going on this new journey.

Tomorrow, my uncle Rabbi David Ackerman will talk a little during my Abba’s installation brunch about what it means to go on a journey, like Abram does in our Torah portion, when you don’t really know where you’re being led to go. But in order to see that journey as having the potential to be meaningful, you have to be willing to accept the command to GO.  When my Abba says GO, I don’t necessarily have to say yes, but I usually do. Each one of us is probably faced with similar moments when a parent, spouse, teacher, or leader tells us simply to GO. Why do we listen? What makes us want to follow someone’s lead? Perhaps, as I believe the Torah indicates, we simply follow the command to GO because we want to believe that that command will lead us from point A to point B, from the point where we are to the point where we want to be.

The fascinating element of this first verse in our Torah portion is not the commandLekh, or GO, but rather the following word, L’kha, which means “for you.” This word, L’kha, seems to be extraneous to the meaning of the verse. The verse could have read Lekh m’Artzekha umi-Moladetkha…“Go from your land, from your native land, etc.” and it would have retained the same meaning. Yet, according to good Jewish exegesis, there is no letter or word in the Torah that is extraneous, so why does the text say L’kha? According to Rashi, the famous medieval French commentator, L’kha means L’heianatkha u-L’tovat’kha – for your benefit, and for your goodness. In other words, your journey will be done for your sake, so that u should trust the command to GO because it will benefit you. “Go for yourself.” However, another way to read this extraneous word is not “Go for yourself,” but rather – in a very literal way –“Go to yourself,” as if by following this command to GO you will discover who you truly want to be; as if by trusting this command you are trusting the one who gives the command to help you get from point A, where you are, to point B, where you want to be.

This interpretation is supported by a popular reading of the text that when Abram was given this command of Lekh L’kha, he was not able to leave right away from his parents’ home. In fact, according to one midrash, this command was given when his father Terah was still alive and it would take another 65 years until Abram was able to physically go to the land that God would show him! So if Abram could not physically “go forth” for 65 years, perhaps he could only go forth into his own soul to understand more of who he was at that moment and who he wanted to become. Taken together, these interpretations teach us that the act of going intoourselves to know where we are and where we want to go will be for our benefit – leading us to a life of goodness.

Yet, it’s not easy to simply GO on those spiritual or religious journeys on our own. Sometimes you need someone to push you, to command you to go on those journeys. Sometimes you need someone who has a sense of the point where you are and what it will take to get you to the point where you want to be. Sometimes, you need a rabbi. Sometimes, as in my case, you need an Abba who happens to be a rabbi.

I remember when I was in 10th grade and all 7 of us were cramped together in our small apartment in Calgary before being able to move into our new home, and I was sitting up in one of the makeshift bedrooms upstairs. I may be combining stories but I think at that moment I was watching my favorite football team, the Philadelphia Eagles, lose to Dallas on a botched field goal on Monday night football (joke: it’s amazing what you can remember) and my Abba came up to the bedroom, sat on the side of the bed, handed me a flyer for March of the Living, a two week teen-program to Poland and Israel, and said “I want you to go on this.” Now even though it was my decision and we talked about the program, in retrospect that initial approach by my Abba in that cramped apartment in Calgary did not feel so dissimilar to God’s command to Abram of Lekh L’kha, of GO.  So off I went, and it was one of the most important trips I’ve ever taken – I learned so much about myself, about my Judaism, and I grew a passionate love for Israel. HisLekh Lekha approach helped get me from staring blankly at a defeated football team, to ecstatically dancing with newfound friends on the streets of Israel. It was just the journey I needed to go on.

I believe it is that similar GO GO attitude that my Abba, Rabbi Moshe Saks, exhibited in that bedroom in Calgary that helped him turn a small community in Bensalem, Pa into a hub for sending kids to Ramah; it is that similar leadership style to GO forward that helped him guide a conservative community in Calgary to become egalitarian, even after facing much resistance; it is that similar belief that the best way to be Jewish is to just GO be Jewish, that led him to build a strong and haimishe morning minyan in Toledo; and though you may want to think twice before asking my Abba to help you buy airplane tickets, you should be excited about his passion for getting from point A to point B, from the point where you are to the point where you want to be. It’s that GO GO spirit of Lekh L’kha that lives through him, and that will serve Temple Israel well as you seek to go and grow from where you are to where you want to be.

*Note: The sermon for “Parashat Lekh L’kha – October 12, 2013” was delivered extemporaneously off of notes. This copy was the written draft used to create those notes. As such, the actual delivery of the sermon did not match word for word with this written draft.

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