Posted on October 15, 2021 by Rabbi Arnie Gluck
When I was 19, I had a lech l’cha moment. I heard an inner voice telling me lech l’cha, go forth, go to the land of your ancestors, to the land of your people. Go to your roots. Go find a part of yourself you do not yet know.
I was in the middle of my freshman year of college and, somehow, I just knew that I had to go to Israel. So, like Abraham, who was the first to heed the call of lech l’cha, “go forth from your land, from the place of your birth, from your parents’ house to the land that I will show you,” I set out on a journey to our ancestral homeland.
I joined a group of students from the State University of New York who were enrolling in the One-Year Program at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and spent my sophomore year in Israel. It was a life-changing experience and a great awakening. Like Abraham, I felt compelled to “rise up and travel throughout the land,” to see its sights and drink in its landscapes, from Dan in the North to Eilat in the South, and even further, to the Sinai desert (which was under Israeli control in those days). Along the way, I made lifelong friends and had mind-opening encounters. I fell in love with the land, the people, the language, the culture — and my future wife — and my soul became forever bound to Zion.
This week, as I returned to Parashat Lech L’cha, the sweet memories of my personal lech l’cha came flooding back to me and I began to wonder where that call had come from all those years ago. In Genesis 12, the Torah tells us it was the voice of God that compelled Abraham to go forth. Looking back, I recalled no such divine revelation.
But that is not the only version of the story. At the end of Genesis 11, we read that Abraham was, in fact, not the first person to embark on the journey to what would become the land of our people. It was his father, Terach, who “took his son Abram, his grandson Lot the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans for the land of Canaan; but when they had come as far as Haran, they settled there.”
This was my story, I realized. I was not the first in my family to feel drawn to the Land of Israel. Generations before me had longed for Zion. It was in my DNA. I was just the first to be able to fulfill the dream of returning home.
The voice that compelled me to go did not come from the heavens. God may indeed have been involved – I do not doubt that – but the voice that resonated through my being was that of my parents, my grandparents, and my great-grandparents. From generation to generation my ancestors — and yours — looked to the East and spoke the words of the psalmist, “If I forget thee O Jerusalem.” They broke a glass in their moments of greatest joy under the chuppah, and they hung a mizrach on the eastern wall of their homes. I, like many of you, grew up with the iconic blue box on our kitchen table to collect our coins for the Jewish National Fund.
It was the voices of my ancestors echoing God’s call to Abraham that bid me to go forth to the Promised Land when I was a young man. Now it is our turn to implant that longing in the hearts of our children and grandchildren, so that generations to come will hear their own lech l’cha and be blessed to heed the call.
Rabbi Arnie Gluck