Parshat Lech Lecha
by: Cheryl Pedersen *
There was a story that came out of Turkey at the end of September about a missing man. Beyhan Mutlu, 51, lived in the town of Inegol in northwest Turkey. The other night he went out drinking with his buddy in a forest. When he didn’t return home, his wife reported him missing. All his drinking buddy knew was that Beyhan was drunk and walked away from him into the forest.
The next morning there were military forces and rescue teams out in the forest looking for Beyhan. For his part, Mutlu had actually found a small house while wandering home through the forest and decided to lay down and sleep. When he came out of the house, he ran across some of the members of the search party and joined in the search for the missing man they said they were looking for. Then he heard them calling out his name and realized he was the one they were in search of.
He told the people in the search party that he was Beyhan Mutlu, but they didn’t believe him. He went to the Turkish news that was out covering the story and said he was the object of the search and rescue. They didn’t believe him either and the search continued. Finally, a friend of his saw him and corroborated his story to everyone.
Turns out Beyhan Mutlu spent more than thirty minutes looking high and low for himself.
At the beginning of Lech L’Kha God tells Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1). That’s a command without much detail as to how or where he was to find this land. He was simply told to go. The literal translation of “lech l’kha” is “betake yourself.” A midrash interprets this to mean “go forth to find your authentic self, to learn who you are meant to be.”
It’s become a ubiquitous phrase these days: “Be your authentic self.” You hear it all the time usually to justify some facet of someone’s personality and not usually the best side. After a cruel retort, they say, “I only said that because I promised myself I would be authentic in my relationships.” Or they excuse a weird obsession with the need to be authentic. How many people who are looking to be their authentic self are more like Beyhan Mutlu than they might want to admit? Searching high and low trying to find themselves.
All of us look for connections, meaning in life, and self-understanding. It’s a natural urge. In our efforts to fill some inexplicable void, we join the many people out there who are also searching. We explore religions, relationships, lifestyles, mood-altering drugs, and body modification. We dabble in success, power, and rebellion against all that success and power. Unsurprisingly, we come up empty because our focus is external. The one place we are most afraid to look is inside ourselves. Masters of distraction, we can easily find ourselves out there in the “othersphere,” looking for our “authentic self” while never once peering inside our own hearts and minds.
Maybe that’s why God was so vague about where he was sending Abram. When he told him to “Go forth” perhaps he first needed Abram to separate from where he was, where he was likely to get stuck. God told him to leave his land and his father’s house. He was seventy-five! I think it was past time to leave.
I remember as our kids reached the end of their high school years we told them we really wanted them to go out-of-state to college. They could have easily traveled a short distance either north or south to one of the verySouth Dakota Universities, or even stayed in town at Augustana or University of Sioux Falls, but would that allow them to stretch? How can you allow yourself to start over, maybe remodel the old you when you are surrounded with the familiar? When you are a hop, skip, and a jump from the safety of home? When you have all the people who have known you since grade school there to remind you of who you are supposed to be?
God was the one who metaphorically kicked Abram out of his father’s house. He was seventy-five years old with a wife and nephew Lot, son of his dead brother Haran. That was it. Off he went with nothing more than a promise:
“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse him that curses you; and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.” (Genesis 12:2-3)
Abram did exactly as God commanded him and the way to Canaan was not an easy one. He encountered famine, the seizing of his wife by Pharaoh, a battle with multiple kings to release a kidnapped Lot, his marriage to Hagar and the birth of his son Ishmael with her, as well as his self-circumcision at the age of ninety-nine. That’s just in Lekh L’Kha. Beyond that, Abram argued with God over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, finally had a son, Isaac, with Sarah, was estranged from Ishmael and Hagar, was commanded to sacrifice Isaac on an altar, and the death of Sarah. All this was going on while he was out there “finding himself.”
We are also on a journey. It is likely dotted with difficult relationships, careers that may or may not have been personally fulfilling, financial worries, illness, and death. No, we didn’t have to battle kings to save a foolish young relative, or perform self-circumcision (OUCH!), but I’m betting we all have had more than a few arguments with God, probably related to some level of discomfort in our own lives and not the pending destruction of entire cities.
Maybe today is a good day to sit down and answer a few of those questions about who you are. Rabbi Noah Weinberg, founder of Aish.com, in his series “48 Ways to Wisdom” suggests that you sit down as though you were interviewing yourself. Answer with clarity and conviction questions like: What are you living for? What are your priorities in life? How do you intend to approach the resolution of any of those challenges? He also includes questions like:
— What are my primary goals in life?
— Why did I choose this career? Am I satisfied with it?
— For what do I want to be remembered?
— How can I be happier and more fulfilled?
— What are my secret dreams and ambitions? Why haven’t I fulfilled them?
— How can I be a better parent, spouse, sibling, friend?
These are not questions anyone else can answer for you nor are the answers found externally. Only you can do it.
Do not be like Beyhan Mutlu, looking for yourself when you are right there and the answers are inside of you. Call off the search party. Listen to God’s command to “Go forth” and find your authentic self. Learn who God means for you to be.
*NOTE: You can view more of Cheryl Pedersen's articles at her website - "I Am My Father's Daughter"