In this week's Torah reading, the portion of Lech Lecha, Abraham receives his first commandment from God: "Go from your country, from your birthplace, from your father's house to the land that I will show you." As Abraham is the first Jew, and this is the first directive he receives, the sages point out that this communication contains a fundamental message that serves as the beginning and essence of our mission in this world.
The common english translation "Go from your land..." ignores a grammatical anomaly of the hebrew original. "Lech" means 'go,' but the second word "lecha" seems extraneous. It literally means "to you," but it doesn't seem to make sense translated this way. The classical commentator Rashi translates the word as "for you," indicating that the travel that God commands Abraham will benefit him in spite of the fact that leaving one's home and travelling to an unknown land can be difficult and fraught with danger. God is assuring Abraham that he need not fear obeying this command, for it will profit him in the end.
The mystics recognize a deeper significance in this wording. Understanding "lecha" in its more literal translation, they explain that the journey that God instructs Abraham to undertake will bring him to a "place" that is the most sought after destination of all travelers throughout history. That place is not on any geographic map. It is not accessible by land or sea. It is arrived at only through great toil, and many will seek it their entire lives and never alight upon its mythic shores. In this first commandment God is providing our first father with his mission statement and his goal: the reason you are here is in order to "Lech Lecha" - Go to You.
"You" is the essence of who you are. It is the pure soul that is hidden deep within. It is the whisper of the divine that is breathed into physical trappings in order to vivify them and ultimately to purify them.
"You"is the part of God that He has concealed in numerous skins and cloaks. It is His most precious possession which he entrusted to us for safekeeping. Keep this for me, He implored us as he pressed it into our hands and sent us on our way. But we hid it away so carefully that we forgot it was there. And so He reminds us of its existence and instructs us to seek it out. "Lech Lecha," He tells Abraham - 'remember that treasure I entrusted to your forefathers, go and find it; if you don't know where to look, I will tell you - it's within you, it is the true You.'
The true You, the verse goes on to teach, is obscured by the false you's that have been built up around our core like a crust. We, and those with whom we interact from our very first moments of life, create these concealing layers for both good reasons - to protect us, to strengthen us, to support us - and bad reasons - to confine us and control us. There are appropriate times for contraction and limitation, but our job at this point, God explains to Abraham, is to dig through all of the stratum to find that which is buried beneath.
To do so, we must, as the verse continues, go out "from your country, from your birthplace, from your father's house" - that is from all of the influences that have sought to define us and distract us from the Godly creation that we are and the emissary of the divine that we were created to be. Each of us is frought with self-doubts and self-recrimination, plagued by notions of our unworthiness, oppressed by images of what we could be or should be, shackled with labels and expectations - none of which are consistent with our true reality.
If we "Go to You," we will find that I do not have to act or look a certain way in order to be loved. I can take the best of my upbringing and leave the worst behind. I am not insufficient or too this or too that. Success is not defined by my bank account or my worldly possessions. I am, in my essence, exactly what I was created to be.
And I will find that my "You" is not so dissimilar from your "You." Are we really so different? If we chip away at the coats of laquer and enamel with which we have been encrusted by others who have been similarly encumbered and indoctrinated, will we not find that there is something very similar beneath? In spite of our respective beliefs and backgrounds, are we not hewn from the same stone?
I saw a piece of art recently, it was a sculpture that depicted two adults turned away from each other in obvious disagreement; but within each adult we could see a child facing the other and reaching out to hold hands. No matter how entrenched the adults had become in their respective and conflicting stories, the child within them recognized their commonality and yearned for reconciliation and communion.
Lech Lecha is our pathway back to that inner child. It is the solution to all of the conflicts that pit us against one another. It is our mission statement and our very reason for being.