peer pressure

The message in this week’s Torah portion is to stand up for what’s right. We have to look inwards, not outwards, for strength, inspiration and direction.

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

The Torah portion of “Lech Lecha” (Genesis 12:1-17:27) opens with God’s life-changing command to Abraham: “Leave your country (“Lech Lecha m’artzecha”), your people and your father’s household to the land that I will show you.”

As with so many passages in Scripture, translations just don’t do justice to the meaning and depth of the original text. The words “Lech Lecha” do not merely mean “leave” or “go”, but rather, “go to you” or “go for you.”

So what is God saying to Abraham?

It is explained that God is not only telling Abraham to lleave his country, but He is also telling him to leave the culture, society, and value system that he grew up with in his “country…people, and your father’s household.” Get out…and get it out of you!

We do not need to be a product of a negative environment or to be affected by the negative influences around us. Just like Abraham, we too need to physically pick up and leave if our neighbors are negative influences on our life. But we also need the deeper meaning of “Lech Lecha..go to you”…meaning to follow our values, to follow what we know is right and not be influenced by those around us. Hence, God is saying, “you are leaving…and leave this culture behind.”

Abraham knew right from wrong. That’s how he became Abraham! He wasn’t scared to challenge his parents, friends, and neighbors, and to question their unacceptable beliefs. God is telling Abraham that he got it right. He is telling Abraham not to think that just because they are the majority, they must be right and his beliefs must be wrong. Abraham was right….the world around him was wrong.

And so it is with us. Very often, (very often!) it’s society that is crazy…not us! Even though millions of people have beliefs and lifestyles that are invalid, unacceptable and outright abominable, we should not be intimidated by the masses. Traditional values are the only values. They’re crazy, not you!

Abraham wasn’t the first to get a “lech lecha” type of message. Adam, the first man, got it too. “Ayeka?” God said to Adam…”Where are you?” God wasn’t asking Adam where he was hiding. He was asking Adam, “Where are you…” in your beliefs, convictions, ethics, and morality. Adam goofed up big time. He was punished. But he repented, and changed.

Also in this week’s Torah portion, God takes Abraham outside and tells him to “see if you can count the stars.” What was this stargazing exercise for? It is explained that the stars, being beyond reach, represent going above — being better than– society. Abraham’s society was idolatrous and immoral. God was telling Abraham, “Lech Lecha” — go above society just like the stars above.

This idea is in the DNA of the Jewish people. We have survived against all odds because we don’t care what society says. We keep our customs and traditions. Jews who remain with Jewish values are the only ones who ensure the continuity of the Jewish people. Jews who follow society disappear into society. “Lech Lecha,” “Ayeka.” Stay Jewish and be proud to be Jewish!

The message of Lech Lecha and Ayeka are the message of not being afraid to stand up for what’s right. We have to look inwards, not outwards, for strength, inspiration and direction.

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.