Lech Lecha: the Torah of Leave-Taking

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This week’s parshaLech Lecha, contains one of the most famous lines in the Torah: “Go you forth from your land, from your birthplace, from your father’s house to the land I will let you see.” These words from G-d to Abraham begin Abraham’s path to becoming the father of the Jewish people and of the future religions grouped under the umbrella of monotheism. These words also describe every person’s journey.

There’s been silence for ten generations, the rabbis say, between Noah and Abraham. And then G-d says, “lech lecha.” The translation of these two words varies: “go you forth,” or “go to yourself,” or “go into yourself,” or “go for yourself.” Isn’t Hebrew awesome? This little line that means all of that. Go, move forward, go find yourself, go for your benefit, go from what you know, leave your comforts behind, take a huge risk, and oh, by the way, don’t worry about your destination, I’ll show you.

This is leave-taking. This is the promise of transformation. G-d doesn’t share with Abraham where he’s going, just that he needs to go. Have you ever looked back on your life and thought that if you’d known you’d end up here, you could have skipped some intermediary steps? There’s something about the unknowing, the can’t knowing, that leads us to transformation. The learning and growing along the way is often the real purpose of the trip, and we just can’t get there if we know where the path will take us.

This story of Abraham’s leave-taking reminds me of a question I was once asked on a silent meditation retreat. On one of the first days of the retreat, the teacher asked us why we get up in the morning. She asked us to really pay attention every morning and see why we get out of bed. The next day, she asked, “Did anyone pay attention this morning and have a reason why we get out of bed?”

Someone raised his hand. “Well, I get out of bed because I’m hungry and ready for the day to start.”

The teacher said, “That’s nice, but no. If you wanted to, you could stay in bed a few more minutes even with that feeling. Why do you actually get up?”

The next day, she asked again, and someone responded, “I get out of bed because I have to use the bathroom.”

And again, she said, “a good try, but no. Pay attention!” I am a total nerd on retreat and take assignments and questions seriously, so I paid attention with all of my might every morning. Why did I get up? Why did I get out of bed? And a few days later, I got it. Again, the teacher asked,“So, why do you get out of bed?”

I raised my hand and answered, “I get out of bed because I can’t not get out of bed.”

She replied, “Bingo.”

We get out of bed, because we literally can’t stay in bed another second. Our bodies won’t let us. You just get up. It’s the same thing with our spiritual journeys and personal development. You change because you can’t not change. You take a risk, because you just can’t not.

Every big decision in my life started in that place, and once I started paying attention, I was able to trust the same directive that Abraham was told, “I will let you see.” I can trust that it’s time to change, it’s time to go forth, and wherever that leads to is where I need to be. This is the Torah of leave-taking.

My kavanah for this week is to practice leave-taking in our meditation practice. In your sitting still, take leave of what you brought with you to this moment. Leave behind your sense of place, your history, your regrets that are in the past and your anxieties in the future. Take leave of your life up until this moment, and create the space to see where this practice will take you. And may the destination, and the journey to get there, be a source of blessing.