It’s really crazy when you think about it: Avraham is seventy-five years old—seventy-five!—when G-d speaks to him for the first time.
Why is this surprising? Because from a young age, Avraham had been G-d’s most faithful ally and staunchest advocate. At three years old, he realized that not only that is there is more to reality than what we can perceive, but that that reality is One. Not One as in the number one, but One as in the organic unity of the universe: an infinitely pervasive and transcendent Oneness. Avraham was a trailblazer, a pioneer of monotheism. He dedicated his life to teaching that this Oneness we call “God” not only created the world, but is intimately involved in His world at every moment. He gained an formidable following, migrating from Babylon to what is currently Syria, lovingly spreading this message to everyone in his path.
Yet G-d waits until Avraham is seventy-five years old. And the first thing G-d says is not, “Great job!” or “Thank you!” or “You’re amazing!” None of that. God says, “Go. Get out of here. Leave. Leave everything you know—your family, your home—and go.
To make things even more confusing: Literally, “lech” means go (and walk), and “lecha” means “to you.” So as a result of the unfortunate poverty of the English language in expressing Biblical Hebrew, we are left with the strange English translation, “Go (or Walk) to yourself.”
Of course, there must be a deeper meaning to this command.
Firstly, what does it mean to “go” or “walk”?
We are born with quirks and idiosyncrasies and talents that make us unique. These qualities are essentially neither good nor bad. Rather, they have potential to be good or bad, depending on how we express them in our thought, speech, and behavior. These are the qualities that come naturally to us, what defines us when we are comfortable in our element, our own little niche. When we are just being ourselves.
Someone who remains fixed, running on autopilot, never attempting to go beyond his nature—He’s standing. He may develop and grow within the confines of his own natural disposition, but if he can never step outside of his box, he never truly goes anywhere. Walking is saying, I am not just a product of my environment. I can choose who I want to be. Walking is lifting up the foot that’s behind me and place it in front of me. Leaving one place and go to a new place, and realizing that by doing so I am beyond both.
So G-d says to Avraham, Don’t just grow. Don’t just become better. Move! Shift! Walk! Get out of your box!
But in which direction? Lecha. To yourself. Go inward.
Who am I? Usually, when we say the word “I,” it’s our ego talking. “I’m hungry.” “I’m tired.” “I wan’t X.” I want Y.” Sigmund Freud believed that a person is his ego. That the deepest part of a person is his selfish desire. That at their root, human beings are raw, base creatures. That if you take many hundreds of thousands of people and deprive them of their physical needs, they will turn into animals.
A man named Victor Frankl, the holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, disagreed with Freud. He saw this experiment with his own eyes, and found Freud’s hypothesis to be false. He saw people who were tortured and deprived of their physical needs and yet somehow still able to laugh, to cry, to be human. He said, “People who have a ‘why’ to live can bear almost any ‘how’.”
The true “I” is not the ego. The true “I” is something (someone) much deeper. That is the “I” we must journey inward to find and connect with.
Lech lecha means realizing that my ego’s needs do not define me. Just because I’m hungry doesn’t mean I have to be in a bad mood. Just because I’m tired doesn’t mean that I can’t help a friend.
On a deeper level, lech lecha means not defining ourselves by our natures and habits. Never saying, “This is just the way I am.” Realizing that just because I’m a night person does not mean I can never be a morning person. That just because I’m introverted does not mean I can’t be extroverted. I am not shackled by my nature.
On an even deeper level, lech lecha means developing an awareness of where I am and where I want to go. It means understanding the world around me and how I fit into the big picture of this vast, wonderful universe. What is my mission? What is my “why”? Why was I put here on this earth?
Lech lecha. Go to yourself. You might just find your truest, deepest self in the process.