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Parshas Lech Lecha - Sieze the Day, as Individuals

By: Rav Dov Lipman

The Parsha begins with G-d commanding Avram to leave his homeland.  Instead of simply saying, "tzei" or "lech" which would mean "go," G-d says "Lech Lecha," which literally means "go to you."  What is the meaning of this extra word, "lecha" and why did G-d say it?   

Rashi explains that the word "lecha" connotes "for your benefit and for your good."  The Ramban takes issue with Rashi and shows from various verses throughout Tanach that this is simply the way the Torah speaks and the extra word has no significance.  The Sifsei Chachamim disagrees with the Ramban.  He explains that the word "lecha" means "according to your will" or "according to your nature."  (This translation works beautifully in Bamidbar 12:1 where G-d tells Moshe "Shlach lecha" "send to you" referring to the spies.  Rashi and other commentaries there explain that the extra word "lecha" connotes "l’daatcha" meaning "if you want to" or "according to your will.")He then shows how this applies to the examples which the Ramban quoted.  However, explains the Sifsei Chachamim, that specific definition does not apply to our verse.  Therefore, Rashi understands "lecha" as it is stated here to mean "for your benefit and for your good."

The Netziv is puzzled by the fact that the Ramban quotes verses from all over Tanach with "lecha" type words yet he does not turn to next week’s Parsha where this word is used.  Chapter 25 describes Akeidas Yitzchak – Avraham binding Yitzchak on the altar.  The second verse there states: "And He said, ‘Take please (na) your son, your only son, the one you love, Yitzchak, and go to you (LECH LECHA) to the land of Moriah…"  The Netziv explains that the word "lecha" there connotes going by himself.  Avraham should keep the trip quiet and, while some people did accompany him, the purpose of the trip remained a secret.  The Netziv then shows how that definition of "lecha"-like words applies in other situations.  However, it does not make sense in our Parsha since Avraham traveled with a large group of people and with great fanfare.  Along the way he attempted to draw more people into the group and he preached monotheism.  Therefore, here, Rashi must veer from the normal explanation of "by yourself" and uses the understanding of "for your benefit and for your good."     

We see that the Sifsei Chachamim and the Netziv both agree with Rashi’s understanding that "lech lecha" in our Parsha connotes a promise from G-d that Avraham would benefit from his leaving his homeland.  It is a bit puzzling that those exact words, "lech lecha," are used both here and just a few chapters later but have different definitions in each place.  Shouldn’t the definitions be consistent?

Tha Malbim has a definition which can be applied both here and to the Akeida.  He understands that "lech lecha" means just what it says – "go to yourself."  Avraham Avinu had been under the influence of the negative character traits and the erroneous beliefs of his home country, his city, and his parent’s home.  The time had come for him to discover his own identity and to distance himself from these negative influences.  The Malbim goes on to explain that this is why the Torah lists the order of what Avraham was leaving as "from his land, from his birthplace, and from his father’s home" despite the fact that, in reality, one leaves his home first, then his city, and then the country.  The Torah is describing the order of influences which he would shed from himself.  The negativity of his country did not affect him as much as that of his city, and his city did not hurt him as much as what he saw and experienced in his father’s home. 

This translation is one which teaches us a great lesson and also can apply to the Akeida.  The Akeida was the ultimate test for Avraham Avinu – a test which could truly show him who he was.  Thus, G-d tells him "lech lecha" – go and find yourself and the tremendous heights that you can reach.  Through these words, G-d is teaching us a profound lesson.  Each of us must recognize that we are under negative influences from our environment.  It is our responsibility to heed this call of "lech lecha" – to go to ourselves.  We must distance ourselves from superficial influences that surround us and dig deep inside to find our real selves.   

I would like to suggest another approach to deal with this question which draws on other commentaries. It will also provide consistency between the use of the word "lecha" in our Parsha as well as in regards to the akeida and  the Parsha of the spies in Shlach.  The Drashas Haran has a unique approach to explain the test of the akeida.  He points to the fact that G-d says to Avraham, "Kach na," which means "Please take" in reference to his taking Yitzchak to be slaughtered.  The Ran explains that G-d did not order Avraham to slaughter his son and Avraham would not have transgressed had he concluded that he could not perform this act.  The test was to see if Avraham could rise to the occasion and elevate himself.  G-d was giving him an opportunity but not a command.  Avraham took advantage and reached great heights as a result.

We previously mentioned the Sifsei Chachamim who understands that "lecha" connotes "according to your will."  We pointed out that this fits perfectly with the command of "Shlach lecha" regarding the spies where Rashi explains that it means "l’daatcha" - "if you want to do this then do it."  Now we see, based on the Ran, that the same idea applies to the akeida – it was Avraham’s choice.  Perhaps that is the meaning of "lech lecha" at  the akeida.  It is a continuation of the "please" since it captures the fact that Avraham should go only if he wants to.  If this is the intent in Shlach as well as in next week’s Parsha, perhaps that is its meaning in our Parsha as well.  Avram was not being commanded to leave his homeland but was told to do so if he felt he could do it.  Therein lay the test.  Would Avram choose to remain in the comfort of his homeland and continue to do outreach there or would he rise to the challenge and traverse the unknown where G-d promises him good things.  The greatness of Avraham Avinu was that he rose to the challenge and  sought opportunities to grow.  As a result, he became the father of the Jewish people.  We see from this that Avraham was not actually handpicked by G-d.  Rather, based on his recognition of G-d as well as his personal righteousness, G-d gave him the opportunity and he took advantage.

This is similar to Moshe Rabbeinu.  G-d seems to command Moshe Rabbeinu to go to Egypt to redeem the Jewish people and Moshe refuses.  Is it conceivable that G-d commanded Moshe to do something and he did not heed G-d’s command?  My Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yaakov Weinberg, zt"l, explained that it must be that G-d gave Moshe the option.  He only wanted Moshe to go if Moshe felt that he was up to the task.  At first Moshe declined and then, at a later point, he agreed to do it.  Had Moshe not risen to the occasion, G-d would have found someone else to redeem the Jewish people.  In fact, the Kotzker Rebbe says that many people saw the burning bush and G-d called out only to Moshe. It was only after Moshe chose to see why the bush was not being consumed that G-d selected him as the potential leader of the Jewish people.

The message gleaned from the situations we discussed – especially from this new understanding of "lech lecha" – is that G-d does not determine who we will be and does not force people to do anything.  Rather, He presents us with opportunities with the hope that we will rise to the occasions  and grow though them.  It is up to us to "seize the day" – "carpe dium" – and to take advantage of those opportunities.  May we be inspired by Avraham Avinu and the incredible growth he experienced as well as the blessings which he received to fight our natural inclination towards laziness and complacency and transform ourselves into people who seize every opportunity which G-d sends our way.