Sign In Forgot Password

Leaving Stale Things Behind #697

10/16/2021 05:51:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashah Lech Lecha
“Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)

Leaving Stale Things Behind

A plucky young boy brings home his seventh-grade report card and hands it to his parents.

As his father scans the list of Ds and Fs, his face begins to redden.

“What’s going on here?” demands the enraged father.

“Yes, I’m wondering that too,” replies the boy. “I wonder whether my bad marks are because of genetics, or the environment I was raised in?”

It’s a classic story about a boy shifting blame, but in many ways, it connects to this week’s Torah portion, as we are introduced to Abram — who is perhaps the most significant character within all of western religion.

Upon his shoulders stand Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

This is the third week of our yearly Torah reading. So far, God’s “humanity experiment” is not working well.

In week one, Adam, Eve and the world are created. Soon after, Cain murders Abel — lawlessness and immorality engulf the world.

In week two, God decides to reboot creation. Noah builds an ark. God sends a flood. Noah and his family survive.

Soon after, humanity decides it can be more powerful than God. God puts an end to the show of chutzpah — the Tower of Babel project — by dividing the world into 70 nations, each with its own respective language.

But rather than destroy the earth, God adopts a different approach.

God introduces us to Abram and Sarai — later to be renamed Abraham and Sarah — who initiate a new theology based on hospitality, kindness, loyalty, and belief in a transcendent God, rather than a world of materialism and self-gratification.

At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, God issues a commandment, which — in many ways — has served as the marching call for all Jews.

“Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)

On the surface God is commanding Abraham and Sarah to move to a new place — from Haran, located today in southern Turkey, to Canaan — now known as Israel.

But this is more than a commandment to emigrate. It is a life lesson.

The late, great scholar, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, noted that if we break down the opening sentence of this week’s parashah, we can take away some important lessons, which encourage us to “go forth” — and perhaps even leave behind some of the obstacles holding us back.

Drawing on some of humanity’s greatest thinkers, Rabbi Sacks breaks down the biblical commandment into three parts — economics, genetics and family.

Indeed, most of us have accomplished many things in our lives. But is the journey complete?

We are often complacent about our economic circumstances. Are we stuck in a loop — our jobs, our spending habits, our assumptions, our priorities?

God tells Abram to leave his economics behind, and directs him to expand or challenge his capabilities in a new place.

God also tells Abram to leave his birthplace. We often take where we live and its privileges for granted.

There is also the mention of “your father’s house.” Most of our parents and grandparents decided to challenge the status quo in their former countries and come to America. Faced with obstacles — and in some cases oppression — they, nevertheless, decided to “go forth” and start from scratch here.

My maternal grandfather, Nissan, came to Canada in the early 1900s and walked from farmhouse to farmhouse in northern Quebec — sometimes at 40 degrees below — selling socks, combs, underwear and toiletries from a backpack he carried along lonely country roads.

Twenty years later, my paternal father, Duddie arrived, carried ice blocks up Montreal's cold tenement steps — long before refrigerators — to ensure that food remained cool and fresh.  

When we leave our birthplace, when we go off to college, when we take a chance on a new job in a new city, we follow in Abraham and Sarah’s footsteps.

Despite all the advantages our parents provide for us, it is important that we eventually leave their sphere of influence and “go forth.”

On the surface, this week’s opening line revolves around God’s commandment for Abraham to leave his relatively successful life and plant Judaism’s founding flag in Israel.

But the opening sentence teaches us more.

It reminds us that we possess the capacity to meet our full potential, if we take a chance, seize life and even challenge our complacency.

We have each been born into a set of economics, a birthplace and a set of living conditions. But unlike the young boy and his report card, they need not determine our ultimate grade.

Each of us has been loaded with unique skills to help us achieve a mission, which only we can achieve. And each of us is mandated to overcome a personal flaw, which only we can truly know.

Economics, birthplace and family environment shape us but they do not necessarily define us.

If we choose to accept the words “go forth,” we are destined to develop as human beings — through highs and lows — and find life’s full meaning. This cannot be fully achieved through stagnation.

Abraham and Sarah accepted the challenge, as did our parents and grandparents, for we — as a people — are always on the move, climbing life’s ladder.

Our past has formed us, but our innate desire to “go forth” defines us — no matter how young or old we are.

Nothing in this world is predetermined. We have the power to succeed in whatever we undertake.

But in the end, we are all like Abraham and Sarah as God commanded them to “go forth.”

We are no different. Each of us possesses the potential to take the next step forward. From Haran to Canaan, from comfort and complacency to our next challenge and victory.

Anything is possible, if we chose not to be limited by what is behind us, but rather be inspired and intrigued by what lies ahead.

Shabbat Shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman


Please join us on Zoom or Facebook,
Friday - 7:00 pm ET
for candle lighting, followed
by live Kabbalat Shabbat services:
(Please note that the Meeting ID has changed as of Jan. 1)

Click link below to view or download
the abridged Friday Shabbat siddur:



Saturday Shabbat & Musaf Service:
10:00 am ET
(Please note that the Meeting ID has changed as of Jan. 1)

Sim Shalom Shabbat & Musaf Siddur:

You can also dial into these services: 
646-876-9923 (New York)
Meeting ID: 971 8824 3757

Find your local number:

Sun, November 27 2022 3 Kislev 5783