Rabbi Berel Wein
There is much comment and many different interpretations regarding the first two words of the second verse of this week’s Torah reading. The second word “lecha,” “for you,” seems to be somewhat redundant in the construction of the sentence. Rashi therefore interprets it to mean “for your benefit and good.” The L-rd instructs Abraham to leave his homeland and family located in Mesopotamia, in order to achieve the greatness that is inherent within him, as the forbearer of nations and the founder of the Jewish people. There is an alternative interpretation of the use of this second word “lecha” in the verse that has always fascinated me. Travel can be a very broadening and entertaining experience. The travel industry the world over is bourgeoning as people crave to visit unseen shores and exotic locations. So why would the travel of Abraham and Sarah from Mesopotamia to the land of Canaan be considered by Jewish tradition to have been such a challenging test of Abraham’s faith on the Almighty? He simply was embarking on a travel experience and was one of many such travelers in his time and world. The answer lies in the fact that the word “lecha” implies permanence. Abraham, you are never going to return home to Mesopotamia again.
You are not a visitor, a tourist, a traveler, but you are now a refugee, an alien, and a non-citizen. And such a status in life is truly challenging and potentially dangerous. So, unlike the interpretation of Rashi, the word “lecha” has a certain ominous characteristic to it. Abraham and Sarah were to be truly challenged by this travel experience. They were not going on vacation. Abraham’s descendants, the Jewish people, have shared this test and challenge with him over our long history. We always were insecure and homeless during the long night of our exile and dispersal. Even countries where Jews resided for centuries, such as Spain, Germany, Poland, etc., eventually no longer would accommodate our presence.
We were always a positive part of any national society we found ourselves in but at the same time we were always the odd man out. But somehow, we were able to survive this enormous test and challenge because we always believed and knew that eventually we were going to go home. We prayed for it to happen, and we struggled against all odds and enemies to make it happen. This belief of the return to Zion and Jerusalem sustained us in our darkest hours. It transferred us in our minds, though not in the minds of others, from the status of tolerated but unwanted aliens into mere visitors and sojourners who have a legitimate and permanent home elsewhere. This is the feeling I have every time I present my Israeli passport for inspection when I travel to a foreign destination. I am no longer a pariah, a refugee but merely a visitor, a tourist, perhaps even an honored guest. The children of Abraham have returned home.