In the end of last week’s parsha we learned that Avram’s father, Terah, had already started the family out on a journey to the land of Canaan. They never actually made it there, but they did leave their homeland, Ur Casdim, and travel part of the way to Canaan, stopping in Haran and settling there (Gen 11:31). Now, in this week’s parsha, God tells Avram to do the same thing his father had intended on doing –leave his homeland and travel to the land of Canaan. Why? What is the Torah telling us here?
All of our parents have already started our journeys for us. They brought us into the world and set us on a road, usually the road they themselves had been travelling. What happens next is essential. In Avram’s case, God says: lekh lekha, literally “go to or for yourself.” Rashi says it means, “go for your own good.” I read it as “make the trip your own.” Yes, it is the same path your father intended to walk, but make it yours, take ownership of it.
God continues by saying that Avram should leave his land, his birth place and his father’s house. Ironically, he will be fulfilling God’s command to leave behind his past by continuing his father’s journey. Avram’s leave-taking is a break that is continuous, a continuity that is also a break with the past.
Here is what makes it a break, what makes it a brand new journey for Avram. Terah went of his own accord, but Avram does so at God’s command. This is a journey originally conceived by man, but now sanctified by God’s command. As such, the journey, though physically the same, becomes entirely new and holy. The act is the same, but the intention, the kavanah, is different. Like a blessing before the performance of a mitzvah, God’s command transforms an ordinary action, the taking of a journey, into a special, holy one.
Avram makes the trip his own by making it also God’s trip, by making his travels a response to God’s command. The command begins with just Avram, lekh lekha, “Take this trip for yourself,” but it ends with both God and Avram -- el ha’aretz asher areka, “to the land that I will show you.” I and you, God and Avram, joined in that single word areka, which encompasses both the I and the you of “I will show you.” The Sefat Emet says this phrase means God will show you things you cannot see on your own. The trip’s destination becomes larger, grander, as a result of its sanctification by God.
The final destination for Avram’s physical journey is indeed the same as Terah had intended, the land of Canaan. But God does not speak of this physical destination. He speaks of “the land that I will show you,” of an open future. Terah’s journey ends before he reaches his final destination, stopping in Haran and dying there. But Avram’s journey never really ends. God tells him to keep walking, to traverse the land lengthwise and widthwise, and so Avram keeps travelling and God keeps showing him things, the sand and the sky, the future.
Avram’s journey is the task of every child. From the child’s perspective, every parent’s path is like Terah’s, just a physical road they have been asked to follow. Every child has the obligation and the opportunity to heed God’s call to Avram -- to make the trip her own, to give it meaning and sanctification, a sense of novelty and a future.