There is so much to say about this week’s Parsha. It starts with perhaps one of the most well-known lines of the Torah. “Now GOD said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country and from your relatives and from your father’s house to the land which I will show you…’” (Genesis 12:1) I attended a Jewish Day School that didn’t emphasize rote memorization, as is common in many Yeshivas, but this verse is one I committed to memory in Fourth Grade. 

I find myself having so much to say on this one line that I am going to employ a framework known as PARDES. PARDES means orchard but it is also a four-letter acrostic. PARDES stands for PSHAT, REMEZ, DRASH, and SOD or the literal, the allusive, the homiletical, and the allegorical. The Torah is both a Tree of Life and the Garden in which we live. I want to look at this first verse of our weekly reading in the same way we might examine a tree from myriad angles: its botany, its dendrology, its history, its mystery…

I. PSHAT — the literal. You Shall Be A Blessing

The literary narrative we encounter here in Chapter 12 is a particularistic one. It is the story of a family chosen for greatness. The first eleven chapters are a universal history — the stories of Creation; the Garden of Eden; Cain and Abel; of Noah and the Flood; the Tower of Babel. The remaining chapters of the book of Genesis have been historically read as national history. Here we meet Avram and Sarai.

לֶךְ־לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ אֶל־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ
וְאֶעֶשְׂךָ לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל וַאֲבָרֶכְךָ וַאֲגַדְּלָה שְׁמֶךָ וֶהְיֵה בְּרָכָה׃

Now GOD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country 
and from your relatives and from your father’s house 
to the land which I will show you...

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.

The great modern liturgist Debbie Freedman, of blessed memory, expanded the scope of this powerful line by changing the gender of the original Hebrew from LECH LECHA to LECHI LACH. Debbie was one of the pioneers in this feminist approach to Torah and also probably responsible for the familiarity of this verse to so many…

L'chi lach, to a land that I will show you
Lech l'cha, to a place you do not know
L'chi lach, on your journey I will bless you
And (you shall be a blessing)3x l'chi lach

L'chi lach, and I shall make your name great
Lech l'cha, and all shall praise your name
L'chi lach, to the place that I will show you
(L'sim-chat cha-yim)3x l'chi lach

Thus starts Avram and Sarai’s journey towards becoming AVRAHAM AVINU, Abraham our Father, and SARAH IMEINU, Sarah our Mother. The Israelite narrative begins.

II. Remez — the allegorical. 

The second level of the PARDES model is REMEZ or the allegorical. In this way, we read the story not as world history or general history but as personal biography. The first two words LECH LECHA are variously translated as “go forth; get out; leave; get thee out.” Go out to find LECHA, yourself. Abram is on an odyssey and so is every one of us. 

LECH LECHA MEIARTZECHA — “go out from your homeland to find yourself.” It wasn’t until I was sixteen and I camped directly on the earth for the first time did I discover that I might be a country boy raised in the city. 

UMIMOLADTECHA — “go out from your birthplace.” Beyond the geography of our birth, we need a further cutting of the cord. MOLEDET is your birth or the circumstances of your birth. This is the separation from any perinatal or early trauma we may have experienced. A rebirthing. Ideally completed with compassion and profound empathy. There is a strain of truth in the one-liner: “if it’s not one thing, it’s your mother.” But that unfairly maligns at least half of the species…

UMIBEIT AVICHA — “go out from your father’s house.” Dad stuff. We need to differentiate and separate from the norms, both spoken and implicit, in the codes of our early home life. Remember that BET is the second Hebrew letter; BAYIT, the same word just aspirated differently, is that same first boundary — inside and outside. We all learn what keeps you in the pack and what threatens to push you out of it. These signals probably come long before language, in feeling, in tone, in touch. To go out from the father means outgrowing home and creating one’s own codebook. It is undoing outmoded allegiances.

EL HA’ARETZ ASHER AREKA — “to the land that I will show you.” We must leave before we know where we are going. Destination unknown. I don’t think our modern GPS’s allow for this; apps always ask us to start by plugging in a place name. I asked in the name of Sam Harris last week, “when was the last time you went for a walk, just to go for a walk?” There’s a beautiful Yiddish word to describe a slow, meandering, destinationless walk: SHPATZEER. The invitation Avram hears, the call we are also urged to respond to, opens a door to the unknown. You will see… you can’t quite yet… but go forth you must.

III. DRASH — the homiletical.

LECH LECHA. The Sefat Emet teaches that this call — “go forth to find yourself” — was ringing out since the beginning of creation but Avram was only the first to hear it. Like a cosmic radio signal we each year, each day, each breath attune to a frequency of our own soul calling. Has there been a subtle whisper all your life long that you haven’t channeled into your own pilgrimage? Are you ready to walk the talk summoning you on the inside?

In Midrash Rabba, we find the famous DRASH of Rabbi Yitzchak. He begins with a line from Psalms, opening: "Listen, daughter, look, and incline your ear; forget your people and your father's house." (Psalms 45:11). In this line we already see the link to our verse, sharing as they do the terms “your people” and” your father’s house”. Rabbi Yitzchak continues: this may be compared to a traveler moving from place to place when they came upon saw BIRAH DOLEKET, a lit-up castle. They said to themselves, "Is it possible that this castle lacks someone to look after it?" The owner of the building looked at the traveler, saying, "The castle is mine." What happened with Abraham our Father was similar. Avram said, "Is it possible that this universe lacks someone to look after it?" The Holy Blessed One looked at Avram and said, "The Universe is mine." 

Reb Yitzchak continues to explore parallels with Psalm 45, but the power and beauty of the verse is easy to lose in translation. It is full of feminine verbs, which are relatively rare:

שִׁמְעִי־בַת וּרְאִי וְהַטִּי אׇזְנֵךְ וְשִׁכְחִי עַמֵּךְ וּבֵית אָבִיךְ׃

SHIMI VAT UR’I. Listen, my daughter, and look. VEHATI OZNECH, incline your ear. 

SHICH’CHI AMECH U’VEIT AVICH. Forget your people and your father’s house. 

These words seem to be addressed to the soul. The soul is in some way the child of this body — born into it and ultimately birthed out of it. VAYITAV HAMELEKH YOFYEICH — “let the King be aroused by your beauty.” Rabbi Yitzhak reads this verse as Abraham’s soul being aroused by the beauty of the world and thereby taken out into his journey in trust and astonishment towards the mastery of the universe’s Creator. KI HU ADONAIY VEHISHTACHAVI LO “He is your master, bow to Him” — because that king, the owner of the lit-up castle, the illuminator of all the worlds, the artisan of the masterpiece we call life, is the very one who crafted you, body and soul… Hence, G-d said to Abram, [go forth...]. Bowing in submission to his calling, his mission.

And although Avram, and the soul-spark of Abraham within all of us, are asked to leave one land, we are also asked to enter another one. This is not a call to disembodied transcendence, leaving earth or the body behind. This is a call from a self-limited embodiment to the unlimited embodiment through movement. EL HA’ARETZ ASHER AREKAH. To the land being shown to us — the ZOHAR teaches us there are seven words for the earth in the Torah,  myriad forms to take — a journey towards the bodies being given to us, now, and now, and now, as we journey forward…

IV. SOD — secret

The fourth and final level of the PARDES model is the most mysterious, the most subtle. The Torah of SOD usually operates on the level of GEMATRIA or what is deep within the letterforms themselves. If the first three PARDES levels correspond to the letters, vowels, and cantillation marks respectively, this fourth level is the mysterious TAGIN, or crowns, the coronate and illuminate the manuscript.

LECH LECHA appears in the scroll unvoweled; that we pronounce those words that way is through oral tradition. The words could simply be urging us LECH LECH, Go! Go! Do not delay. The time is now to begin again. The awesome opportunity of TESHUVA lives only in this moment. Begin again. Come, Come, Whoever you are… lover of leaving! Leave and come back… to this land you are being shown. Now.

These letters LAMED CHAF LAMED CHAF add up to 100. We are meant to say 100 Blessings each day. This journey is about becoming a blessing. If you are what you eat and the world is what we say of if — ABRA KADABRA is an Aramaic phrase meaning “I will speak and I will create” — we are meant to Go Go Go into the process of embodying blessing.

The letters themselves teach us this. LAMED is a prefix meaning to, towards… MEM is a prefix meaning from, or out of… The whole verse is about pouring weight, pouring energy from one place to another. Go here from here, go from there to here. The body is a vessel for the soul as a unified experience of the not-two-ness of body-soul-heart-mind. This is the self-transcending journey the LAMED and CHAF teach us — one letter reaching above, one letter rooting below, the palms of the feet catching earth, and the spine falling upwards to light-up heaven. These three letters — the LAMED and CHAF of LECH LECHA — and the MEM of displacement, MIKAN AD KAN, from here to there, spell MELEKH, King. They are the three innermost letters of the ALEPHBET; they appear right in the center of ALEPH through TAF. The Monarch sits in the middle of meaning-making; “let the King be aroused by your beauty.”

As we move, all together and apart, you and I, on this journey to the land our body-souls will be shown, we are containers, KELIM, KAF’IM, spinning, slingshots, a centrifuge of cells, KAF HAKELAH, swirling from here to there, ME’… LE’… MEM… LAMED. Carrying the energy of becoming towards the promised land of being a blessing.

לֶךְ־לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ אֶל־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ

May you have the courage to hear the inner call, your own coming out, to land in the life you will be shown. And you shall be a blessing!

Shabbat Shalom.

Image: gidabul doobay, New South Wales, Australia

shir feit


Shir Yaakov is Kol Hai's founder and spiritual director.