The following text on Ithaca extends these themes with the idea that the journey, rather than the arriving, is part of the value. Can you think of times where the experience of the Journey is more important than arriving at the journey’s destination?
This poem by Constantine Cavafy is an imaginative interpretation of Odysseus’ return to Ithika after the Trojan war. (Odysseus is also known as Ulysses). Following the fall of Troy, it takes Odysseusten years to complete his long journey back home to Ithaka. This journey is told in The Odyssey,one of two major ancient Greekepic poems attributed to Homer. The poem is commonly dated around 700 BCE.
“get thee out of your country, and from your birthplace, and from your father’s house…”
Commentators have remarked on the unusual order. The verse should have read, in the ordinary way: “מבית אביך, ממולדתך ומארצך” (from your father’s house, your birthplace and from your country.”) This is the logical sequence, since a person first leaves home, then his birthplace and then his fatherland
The commentary הכתב והקבלה (Haktav Vehakabala)*suggests that there we are referring to a spiritual rather than physical withdrawal, beginning with the periphery and ending with the inner core. The withdrawal from one’s birthplace is not such a cruel wrench as the cutting of one’s connection with one’s family. First, therefore, Abraham was bidden to sever his connection with his country, then his city and finally the most intimate bond, that of home.
*Haktav Vehakabala: Was written by Rabbi Yaakov Tzevi Mecklenburg, a German Jewish scholar of the 19th century. Rabbi Mecklenburg served as Rabbi of Koenigsburg, East Prussia for 35 years (1831-65). Haketav Vehakabbalah was first published in 1839.
Leading Idea: Thinking about Journeys and Journeying
The books of Bereshit and Shemot are full of journeys. Several ideas are explored here that prepare students for the pieces of narratives that they will encounter. In this regard the first set of discussion plans and activities can act as induction exercises as well as being helpful as tools to explore more deeply questions students raise. Attention is drawn here to three aspects of journeying that can prepare students for thinking about this parashah and the parshiot that follow.
(i) The meaning of journeying – what makes something a journey and what does journeying involve?
(ii) Ancient Journeys – reminding ourselves that journeys weren’t always taken in a car – What earlier modes of transport were there? What reasons led people to travel? What might the journey look like?
(iii) Figuring out the larger context from the details we know. What are some of the plausible inferences we might make given the details we are told?
Read the sentence on the left – which kind of “Go Forth!” do you think is invoked here? You can mark more than one, but make sure you can explain what you mean in each case. If you mark more than one, show which one you think might be more central than the others (if this is the case).
Go forth – leave where you are (for another place)
Go for yourself! (your own benefit)
Go to your yourself (to greater self-understanding)
Go – to the person you will become
Sam: “The camping trip will be good for you – you should go!”
Kate: “I’m going to miss you when you leave, but I know the job in Boston pays a higher salary.”
Eli: “I went on this retreat to get in touch with the ‘real me’ – it was very cool. I learned lots about myself.
Zaitlan: “Going to summer camp last year was really important – I really became more self-confident and independent.
Esti: “We are moving to Israel– I don’t want to go, but my parents say it is the only place we can truly be ourselves. But I am my best self right here.
Ronie: “In my head I am such a different person than people around me see – I think the only way I can make that person come out is to start over somewhere else.”
David: “Getting up on Sunday morning for Synagogue School is not fun, but I know that I’ll appreciate the fact that I made this effort when I get older.”
Go back to the Biblical text – for each of these different forms of “Lech l’cha” – how does that change your reading of Avram’s journey?