The title of this Torah portion is commonly translated as "Get Yourself Out" or "Go Forth". However, there is another translation or interpretation that gives an interesting perspective on the information in this portion. The Chassidic interpretation is "Go to you". I know what you're thinking. What is "go to you" supposed to mean? How does that make any sense? I'm glad you asked. Keep reading and I'll try to explain it with only a few short (or long) minor (or major) rabbi trails and random discussions.
Avram is being called to go to a place that is the essence of himself. The land he is leaving, Haran, is the land of his father, Terach. It is Avram's old nature. It is a land that has importance because it is the place of his family. His destination, Kena'an, is the land of Avram's new nature. It is important because Avram goes there. Prior to Avram's arrival, the land of Kena'an has no significance or special importance to mankind. It is simply another place like so many others. However, to YHVH, it is already a chosen place. He just hasn't revealed it yet. It is an example of YHVH's progressive revelation. I love progressive revelation. It always keeps you wondering what's coming next!
Avram has been called the first Jew. However, we know that is not technically accurate. After all, to be a Jew, Avram would have to be a descendant of his own great-grandson Judah. Unless Avram was somehow related to Dr. Who, I don't think that could happen. So the correct statement is that Avram was the first Hebrew. So what does Hebrew mean, exactly? Hebrew comes from the Aramaic word ibri, from the root word abar meaning "to cross over" or "to pass over". This is also related to the word eber meaning "one who traverses". So we can see that Hebrew means crossed over or passed over. Now that we've cleared that up, we get a few more questions.
What did Avram cross over? Avram made multiple crossings, both physically and spiritually. First, he crossed the Euphrates river to enter Kena'an. However, after doing so, he left again. Therefore, he had to cross over again coming from Egypt back into Kena'an. That's two physical crossings. Spiritually, Avram made an even more important crossing. Avram's father Terach made idols for a living. As such, Avram grew up being taught polytheism and idol worship. Whether he actually worshiped multiple gods or not is not mentioned in scripture. What is known is that at some point, Avram made the decision to worship and follow YHVH. This was a huge change from the culture of his family. This is also a strong example of the mercy of YHVH. He could have left Avram (and all his descendants) to suffer condemnation for idol worship. Instead, He chose to be merciful and deliver Avram to the Truth of Himself.
Why was Avram called to leave his land, his city (the place of his kin), and his father's house? Isn't that backwards of the way he would have to leave? You have to leave your home, then your city, and then your country. You can't do it the other way around. So why did YHVH state it the way He did? Since everything YHVH does has a reason, there must be some meaning we can get from this order. According to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, this order is indicative of a spiritual, emotional, and intellectual meaning. I'll discuss each item in the order below.
Land - Represents natural desires and base instincts. The Hebrew word for land, eretz, is related to the word ratzon which means will and desire.
City - Represents the influence of society and family - This is learned behavior.
Father's house - Represents intellect. Chassidic teaching says that intellect is the father within the man. Intellect has authority over feelings and behavior.
Using the explanations above we see that Avram was told to leave his natural desires and base instincts, his sinful nature. He is told to leave the learned behavior of his kin, idol worship and false gods. Finally, he is told to leave his intellectual knowledge (what he thinks he knows) behind.
Avram is told to go to a new place that would be given to him by YHVH. He was called to be a new man in a new place. That is what is meant by "go to you". He was literally going to himself, the new Avram. He would later even be given a new name.
We see this same concept in the B'rit Chadashah. We are called to be "born again". We are to leave our old man (our old nature) and cross over to become a new creation. We must leave behind our base instincts and sinful nature. We must leave behind our learned behavior from society. We must know the difference between right and wrong, moral and immoral. Just because something is called "normal" does not mean that it is right. The last step is most often the hardest and most people never make it. The last step is what makes us true Hebrews. We must leave behind our intellectual knowledge of Christianity or Judaism if it doesn't match YHVH's Word. Like Avram, we must accept His promise and covenant.
Like Avram, our journey after crossing over is not always easy. Avram went through troubles. When he first arrived in Kena'an, he found a famine. Avram was not yet ready for his inheritance, so the land was not ready to be inherited. He had to go to Egypt. While there, (as a result of his own deception),his wife was taken from him and given to Pharoah. YHVH, in order to get his plan back on track, was forced to send plagues on Pharaoh until he released Sarai. Pharaoh sent Avram away with cattle, sheep, donkeys, etc. to end the plagues.
When Avram went to Kena'an, he took his nephew Lot with him. As so often happens, having family along leads to trouble. Avram and Lot were both very prosperous and the land could not support both of them. There was not enough room for all their herds and flocks together. To settle the issue, the men agreed to separate and divide the land between them. Lot chose S'dom, despite knowing that the men were evil, "committing great sins against YHVH", because the land was good for grazing. It would allow him to become even wealthier. This simple decision for gain in the present led to a devastating loss in the future.
While Lot was living in S'dom, the king of S'dom and four others rebelled against the king of K'dorla'omer and his three allies. The four kings defeated the five rebellious kings and took their people captive, including Lot and his family. When Avram learned of it, he went after Lot and defeated the four kings with 318 men. Why does Torah tell us such a specific number of men? Is there some significance to 318? Actually, there is. The gematria of the number 318 means "Elohim's help". Therefore, this scripture can be read as Avram defeated the four kings with Elohim's help.
When Avram returns home after defeating the kings, he is met by Malki'Tzedek, the King of Shalem with bread and wine. The name Malki-Tzedek means King of Righteousness. Shalem means peace. Therefore, the King of Righteousness and King of Peace gave him bread and wine. Avram then gave him a tithe of all he had. I think it's pretty obvious who Avram met that day. If you are unsure, there are some good teachings on the subject available at www.tallitministries.com and a new one coming soon to rabbiearl.blogspot.com.
There is more in this Torah portion, but that will be for another time as this has already gotten much longer than I intended. Until next time, Shalom!