Parshat Lech Lecha: Morning Mindfulness

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I…?” – Pirkei Avot 1:14

Avraham is the paradigm of chesed and compassion, of doing for others. For this reason, it is surprising to read Rashi’s commentary on the opening words of parshat Lech Lecha. Rashi, noting the “kefel lashon,” double language, interprets the words “lech lecha” as: Go for YOURSELF. Going on this journey to an unspecified destination was for Avraham’s own benefit: “להנאתך ולטובתך.” By going forth and having faith in Hashem, Avraham will be rewarded with becoming a father, not only of his own children, but also of a great nation. The Zohar, similarly interprets “lech lecha” as “go unto yourself…to know and to fix yourself.” Before Avraham could inspire others he needed to journey inward and strengthen himself. 

A similar idea is expressed by two great thinkers on mindfulness as we awaken. Rav Kook, in Olat Reiyah, comments on the “Modeh ani” prayer: When we wake up and are awestruck by the vastness of the universe, we might feel small and insignificant. By emphasizing the I (ani), and drawing on our inner strength and gratitude to God, “the individual self remains undaunted, the ‘I’ finds divine confirmation and validation.” Rebbe Nachman of Breslav shares a similar thought in his commentary on the opening words of the Shulchan Aruch – that a person should awaken with zest like a lion. Rebbe Nachman, sensitive to human nature, understood that sometimes people wake up and feel unhappy with themselves, distant from God and unmotivated. Hence, he suggests finding a “nekuda tova,” a good point to focus and build on within oneself. 

This is a particularly relevant message for our time, as increasing numbers of people are feeling unhappy and unmotivated. “Modeh ani” provides an opportunity each morning to go to/for oneself and discover one’s personal uniqueness and potential. Shabbat Shalom – Karen Miller Jackson


Lech Lecha: From Loneliness to Community

Parshat Lech Lecha contains a message about individuality but also about community. On the one hand, Avraham stands out for his exemplary uniqueness and ability to stand up for what he believes is right, even if he was alone in his non-mainstream ideas. On the other hand, the parsha emphasizes that Avraham does not remain alone, but together with Sarah, builds a community through his commitment to monotheism and lovingkindness. 

Avraham is commanded by God to leave his home and family to set out for an unknown destination. Rambam teaches that before this, Avraham spent many hours and years meditating alone over the world, until he came to know God the Creator of the world at age forty. Rashi interprets the words “Lech Lecha” (go for yourself) as: for your own benefit and your own good. These sources highlight Avraham’s uniqueness but also his likely loneliness at this point in the narrative. Rabbi Soloveitchik characterizes Avraham as feeling “intense loneliness” before entering into the “brit” or covenantal relationship with God and inspiring others to join the “covenantal community.” 

When Avraham and Sarah set out on their journey they also bring along “the souls they had made in Haran.” This odd terminology is understood by the midrash to mean that Abaraham had taught, hosted and converted the men and Sarah, the women. Based on this, the Ha’amek Davar interprets “Lech Lecha” as meaning that even though Avraham was alone in his faith, he and Sarah chose to share their beliefs along the way and greatly influenced and enriched the lives of others. 

Loneliness is an increasing challenge in our world today. Avraham and Sarah remind us of the greatness of community and provide a model for how to build meaningful relationships. Shabbat Shalom


Lech Lecha: Go To Yourself

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” – Pirkei Avot

Avraham is the paradigm of chesed and compassion, of doing for others. For this reason, it is surprising to read Rashi’s commentary on the opening words of parshat Lech Lecha. Rashi, noting the “kefel lashon,” double language, interprets the words “lech lecha” as Go for YOURSELF. Going on this journey to an unspecified destination was for Avraham’s own benefit: “טובתך והנאתך.” By going forth and having faith in Hashem, Avraham will be rewarded with becoming a father, not only of his own children, but also of a great nation. The Zohar, similarly interprets “lech lecha” as “go unto yourself…to know and to fix yourself.” Before Avraham could inspire others he needed to journey inward and strengthen himself.

Rav Kook expresses a similar idea on Modeh Ani. In his commentary on the siddur, Olat Ra’ayah, he explains that each morning when we wake up and are awestruck by the vastness of the infinite universe, we might feel small and insignificant. By emphasizing the I, and drawing on the inner strength and gratitude to God within ourselves, “the individual self remains undaunted, the ‘I’ finds divine confirmation and validation.”

Perhaps the message is that in order to be able to give to others and live a life of meaning, we need to be healthy and strong in mind and body ourselves. Shabbat Shalom🌻