A Land of Promise

Lekh Lekha By :  Matthew Berkowitz Former Director of Israel Programs, JTS Posted On Nov 11, 2016 / 5777 | דבר אחר | A Different Perspective | Israel

© Rabbi Matthew L. Berkowitz
The Lovell Haggadah, Plate 2 (2008)

Abraham continually inspires us, his descendants, in his ability to place trust in the journey. God’s command to “[j]ourney forth from your country, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house” (Gen. 12:1) is striking: Leaving one’s country is doable. But to journey from one’s birthplace and familial connections is jarring—with the potential to transform one into an aimless wanderer. Abraham is commanded to sacrifice his roots for an indeterminate future—for the place that God will show him. A promise. And nothing more.

Rashi unpacks the command of lekh lekha: “go for your benefit and for your own good and there I will make of you a great nation.”  As in the “hero’s journey” described by Joseph Campbell, Abraham must depart, initiate himself into a new reality, and then return—to himself. He returns a truer self, a renewed self. The Land of Israel, the Rabbis teach, has the capacity to affect the mind and soul: “The air of the Land of Israel sharpens one’s acuity” (BT Bava Batra 158b). There is not only a physical connection between the Jewish people and the Land, but also a deeply mystical and intellectual one. We nurture the Land and the Land nurtures us. We are a reflection of the diverse landscapes of Israel; we are richly layered and textured like Israel; and we aspire heavenward—just as the earthly furrows beckon to the heavenly horizons of our Promised Land. It all begins with a journey—trusting in that commanding voice which will take us to a beautiful land and a deeper and truer self.