“Get Thee Out of Thy Country”
“Get thee out of thy country” . Thus opens the famous Torah portion of Lech Lecha, often the very first parsha we learn as sweet, wide-eyed young ones. All of us chanted these words in devoted repetition, unaware of their somewhat harsh and insistent sound, oblivious to the depths of their meaning.
As I revisit these words, the grammar strikes me as exceedingly strange. Wouldn’t “Lech me’artzecha”- “Go from your country”- be a more logical choice of diction? What is the significance of the reflexive verb used in the opening sentence of this parsha?
Although initially strange, upon pondering I discovered the brilliance of the effect of the reflexive tense. First and foremost, the entire focus of the command is shifted, as this form of dikduk puts the emphasis on oneself; in this case, Avram. “Go from your country” is a command that centers on the necessity of abandoning the land, of leaving Charan. As such, it draws attention to the place that must be deserted. However, the odd conjugation used in our pasuk rephrases the command to read, “Get thee out of thy country”- the emphasis clearly refocused on the man who must do the leaving. The effect is twofold: one, it devalues the land in favor of the individual, and two, it devalues the origin, Charan, in favor of the destination, Israel. It does not matter to us from where Avram is departing; only that he is departing, and where he is headed.
The strange phraseology is also key in describing what kind of exit Avram is required to make. “Go from your country” would imply a simple physical desertion of his current surroundings. That is not, however, what G-d seems to ask of him. What the Almighty requests seems to be of a more social and psychological nature. “Get thee out of thy country” is of a grammatical composition that brings to mind a sentence I often heard in my youth; namely, “Get your head out of those books!” Humor aside, the meaning implied was not to simply remove the literature from my physical person. Similarly, Avram is not being commanded to simply vacate prime Charan real estate. He is commanded to extract himself from the very fibers of its culture, its theology, its belief systems. He is charged with cutting away any emotional or psychological ties to his birthplace. He is expected to unearth and destroy any ideas that may have infiltrated his pure being during his stay in Charn, told to prune himself like a particularly precious rose in a bed of parasitic weeds.
It is an interesting point that G-d’s involvement in the process is reserved until the end of the commandment. Indeed, only after Avram separates himself, body, min, and soul from Charan, physically leaves the land, and travels a great distance will G-d intervene and bring him to Israel- “El ha’aretz asher er’ecka”. Avram must first survive heartbreak and wrenching separation, muster a great deal of bravery and faith, and set out on his own before G-d extends his loving assistance. We observe a similar message in reverse present in the slichot prayers of the aseret yimei teshuva; “Heshiveinu Hashem eilecha v’nashuva”- “Return us, our G-d, and we will return.” We ask G-d to take the first step, and help bring us back, and we will follow. In the first pasuk of Lech Lecha, G-d stands just out of Avram’s reach, eager to help but insistent that Avram make the first moves on his own. Once Avram proves his willingness and worth, G-d gets in the picture, not just dictating instructions but rather leading Avram by the hand.
I found this idea resonated especially with me at this point in my life. On a much smaller scale, those of us who chose to study abroad for a year did choose to leave our homes, our communities, our lifestyles behind to take advantage of a unique spiritual opportunity. We abandoned the safe, the comfortable, the familiar in order to take a leap of faith. We have taken the first tentative steps towards G-d…now we can only pray that He reaches out, takes our hand, and leads us home.
Student Studying in Migdal Oz