Repost: Lekh-lekha

“Lekh-lekha!” God says to Abraham at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, called Lekh-lekha.  The first word of this phrase, lekh (לֶךְ), is easy to translate; it means “go” in the imperative.  The second word, lekha (לְךָ), is more ambiguous.  The -kha suffix means “you”, “your”, or “yourself”.  The preposition at the beginning of the word, לְ, could correspond to either “to” or “for” in English.

Certainly God is urging Abraham, who has lingered for years in Charan, to go to a new land now.  Adding lekha might make the request more urgent; God might be saying “You!  Go!” or “Get yourself going!”

But commentators through the ages have pointed out that God might also be saying “Go for yourself!”  In other words, Abraham should uproot himself from Charan and go to Canaan for his own sake.  Or God might be saying “Go to yourself!”  In other words, Abraham should look inside himself and see that going away is part of his nature.


Tempio Maggiore

We had many reasons, my husband and I, to uproot ourselves from our familiar and comfortable life in Oregon and fly to Europe and eventually Israel for a new adventure.  Here on the other side of the globe we have had many new experiences, some of them delightful.  But the day we visited Tempio Maggiore, the Great Synagogue of Florence, was so disconcerting I still feel uprooted.

The synagogue itself is a majestic Neo-Moorish building constructed 1874-1882, after Jews in Florence were given full citizenship and the old ghetto was razed and turned into a large public square.

In the same block as the Great Synagogue we found a now-defunct Chabad house; Ruth’s, the best kosher restaurant I’ve eaten at on two continents; and soldiers in berets and “camouflage” uniforms.   (At least that’s what uniforms of patchy green, brown, and khaki are called, though they really stand out in a street of gray stone and stucco.)  These soldiers were carrying sub-machine guns.

View from Ruth’s

A building labeled “Carabinieri” was in the next block.  But there were no carabinieri posted at the entrances to this military police station.  Instead, they were walking slowly up and down the block in front of the synagogue.  Protecting Jews.  Protecting us.

I know that anti-Semetism has increased lately in the United States, and in a few cities people have opened fire on Jews in synagogues.  I understand why even in Portland, Oregon, there are now police guards at the front doors buildings where Jews are arriving in droves for  Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  I understand why we had to show our ID at the door to enter a synagogue in Prague for Yom Kippur.

But I was not psychologically prepared for sub-machine guns.

Some people probably feel safer thanks to these well-armed carabinieri.  But I felt less safe.  I felt as if I had stepped into a war zone without knowing it.  Am I more at risk than all the other Americans touring Florence just because I am a Jew and I eat at a kosher restaurant?

Maybe I am.  Can I accept it?  What about when we reach Israel, and we see a lot more guards carrying sub-machine guns?

Lekh-lekha!  Go for yourself!”  I expected this journey to benefit me personally, broadening my horizons and knowledge.  And it has.

Lekh-lekha!  Go to yourself!”  I did not expect this journey to open an uncomfortable cranny of my own psychology.  But it has, most notably at Terezin, and now in Florence.


Click here for my 2011 post on this week’s Torah portion:  Lekh-Lekha & Vayeira: Going with the Voice.

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