The stories of the ancestors, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, begin this week. Lech Lecha is the first of three parshiot in which Avraham Avinu (our father, Abraham) is the main character. We begin the Amidah prayer by calling God “The God of Avraham, the God of Yitzchak, and the God of Yaakov.” This means that each of the three forefathers had a different spiritual journey.

Avraham’s journey begins with a break from his past. He breaks from his family, and he breaks from tradition. The Midrashim describe his realization that nothing in the observable world can possibly be divine, and so he becomes open to God’s call. His father owned an idol shop, and Avraham beheaded all the idols except for one, and placed the axe in that idol’s hands. When his father scolded him for destroying his merchandise, Avraham blamed the idol holding the axe. When his father did not believe him, Avraham told his father that if the idol was not even capable of that act, then it was not worthy of worship. He went out and observed the celestial bodies, entertaining the idea that each could possibly be divine. When he saw that the moon waxes and wanes, and that the sun sometimes sets, he decided that the true God must be beyond this world. God then told him “Lech lecha, leave your land, your birthplace, and your father’s house for the land that I will show you.”

Jewish tradition begins with our people’s ancestor breaking from tradition. He finds God through a spiritual search, not by following his father’s lead. He leaves his father’s house. He leaves his home behind. He could only find the transcendent by leaving the familiar.

Yitzchak, on the other hand, did exactly as his father did. He re-dug the wells that his father had dug after the Philistines filled them. He moved temporarily, and had his wife pretend to be his sister so that they might survive. Rather than leave his father, he let his father put him on an altar.

Yaakov does not follow his father, but rather obeys his mother. He leaves home not in search of God, but in order to flee his brother. He invokes God’s protection and aid during his long sojourn away from home.

Yaakov and his children go down to Egypt and grow from a clan into a nation. By the time they are ready to collectively return to their homeland, having received the Torah to guide and govern them, they have moved far from the initial spiritual journey that Avraham made which began the entire enterprise. Rather than leave home, they must now receive religious instruction from the earlier generation. An entire people cannot “leave home” in the sense that Avraham Avinu did. In fact, a life dedicated to Halachah enforces a great many routines that place a religious Jew’s spirituality solidly within home and community.

Our “leaving home” once we are already committed to the routines of Jewish life must consist of every act that challenges our spiritual complacency. When we daven with real focus and heartfelt immersion in the words of the prayers, we leave the home state of mundane stream of consciousness. When we comfort mourners, we leave the home of our everyday lives and sit with a person whose everyday life has been shaken. When we study Torah, we leave the home of thinking about our daily routines, of familiar ideologies, or of the present society in which we live as we visit the time that the particular Torah text presents. We are children of Avraham. With every religious act that pushes us to grow, we leave home.

Shabbat shalom!

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