Every great article, every great essay, and every great story begins the same way – as a rough draft. The rough draft…one of the most overlooked and underrated aspects of writing. The part of the process in which authors are able to gather their thoughts in most muddled and disorganized ways imaginable. With a desk strewn full of books, sheets of crumpled papers littered on the floor, and a garbage can filled with empty bags of snacks and Snapple bottles, the process of the rough draft is far from pretty. If the finished product of a good article or Derashah looks like a masterpiece, the piles of marked-up pages and disconnected sentences of any rough draft looks more like a mess.
Believe it or not, even the Torah, the greatest of books, has a rough draft! Parshiyot BeReishit and Noach, telling the story of the creation of the world, represent the initial creation of man and man’s failed attempt to develop a relationship with God. From the Cheit of Adam and Chavah to the murder of Hevel by his brother Kayin, mankind does not get off to the best start. So soon after having finally finished His masterpiece, the world, Hashem brings the “Great flood,” essentially pressing “control-A” on His laptop to highlight His work and “delete” the horrendous rough draft.
This brings us to Parshiyot Lech Lecha and VaYeira, and the story of Avraham Avinu. Through Avraham, God’s plan for the Jewish people is realized and sent to the printer. If Adam and Noach represent the rough draft of God’s outline, in Avraham we seem to meet the final version.
In Parashat VaYeira, during God’s initial instructions concerning the Akeidah, Hashem states (BeReishit 22:2), “Kach Na Et Bincha Et Yechidcha Asher Ahavta Et Yitzchak,” “Please take your son, your only one, whom you love – Yitzchak.” Rashi (ad. loc. s.v. Et Bincha) tells us that encrypted in this verse is actually a much larger conversation that takes place between God and Avraham. Initially, Hashem does not reveal which son is supposed to be offered, and Avraham has to push Him to find out who Hashem is talking about. The Pasuk continues (22:2), “VeLech Lecha El Eretz HaMoriyah VeHa’aleihu...Al Achad HeHarim Asher Omar Eileicha,” “And go to the land of Moriah; bring him up there upon one of the mountains which I shall reveal to you.” Again the directives are murky, as the destination of the task is left unstated. What kind of cryptic game is God playing with Avraham?
This is not the only time we find the phrase “Lech Lecha” in conjunction with the trials of Avraham being followed by a vague description. In Parashat Lech Lecha, Hashem states (BeReishit 12:1), “Lech Lecha MeiArtzecha UMiMoladetecha UMiBeit Avicha El HaAretz
Asher Ar’eka,” ”Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” We all know that Avraham is supposed to end up in Cana’an, Eretz Yisrael; however, how does Avraham know where he is supposed to go?! Even a GPS couldn’t have helped him, because God doesn’t tell Avraham where to go! Why would Hashem ask Avraham to go on a journey without a specified destination?
In order to understand the lack of directives given to Avraham, we actually need to delve into the instructions he does receive, which are also full of uncertainty. What does Hashem mean with the commandment of “Lech Lecha”? Although generally translated loosely as “Go,” there is the second phrasal word, “Lecha.” How does one “Go Lecha”?
Rashi (ad. loc. s.v. Lech Lecha) says that “Lecha” actually means, “LeHana’atcha ULeTovatcha,” “for your own benefit and gain.” Avraham is told that he will remain barren in Ur Kasdim, but in Cana’an, Hashem will turn him into a great nation. In other words, Rashi reads the word “Lecha” as “for you,” and not “to you.”
But the Zohar offers another explanation, an explanation that is so simple yet so profound. “Lech Lecha,” “Go to yourself,” means just that: “Travel, in order to transform yourself, to create yourself anew.” In other words, “Lech Lecha” translates as “Travel to yourself”! It does not mean to the present, habitual self; rather, to the self of endless aspirations – the unimagined, untapped self.
Dr. Avivah Zornberg, in her newest book entitled The Murmuring Deep, explains that a journey to a destination unknown is the truest way of bringing out untapped reservoirs of any individual. Off balance, unaware of what looms in the distance, Avraham is forced to become more in tune with his inner feelings and emotions. In the inner anxiety caused by the suspense of not knowing, Avraham is actually being invited by God to an inner journey as well as a physical one.
That is what the Zohar states is encrypted in God’s command of “Lech Lecha,” the instruction for Avraham to find himself. In these moments of the unknown, Avraham not only covers the landscape of the ancient Near East, but he also plummets to the depths of his own soul. As Zornberg puts it, “The experience of lostness provides an experience that is the very purpose of God’s invitation.”
It is for this reason that vital information is withheld in both of the “Lech Lecha” stories – so that Avraham can learn to deal with the unknown. When he is willing to accept the challenge in both tasks of Lech Lecha, Avraham actually finds the real destination that he was looking for all along – deep inside of him. “Lech Lecha – go to yourself.” Avraham is not informed of his intended destination because it isn't about the destination – it is about the journey. Kept in the dark, Avraham is provided with constant opportunities for the discovery and recreation of the self. Thus, Avraham is made the ultimate “rough draft” project.