Lech Lecha and Our Jewish Journies

November 11th: Lech Lecha
Rabbi David E. Ostrich

There were many things that made Debbie Friedman (1951-2011) a great song-writer. She began with the musical energy of the Reform Youth Movements (Temple Youth Groups and Summer Camps) and developed into a composer who helped many generations to experience the power and kavannah of Jewish texts and wisdom. When we were growing up, the choices for young people involved Israeli folk music (often with a Labor Zionist sensibility) and American folk-rock music (often with a social justice sensibility). The contribution of Debbie and her whole cohort of song-leaders-turned-composers was to combine the folk music energy of the 1960s and the words of Jewish texts and prayers. This process—which continues to this day—has transformed the music of the synagogue and helped many in increasing their attachment to Judaism and their kavannah in prayer.

A case in point comes in the song L’chi Lach which is taken directly from this week’s Torah portion. Here is the text from Genesis 12:
“The Lord said to Abram: 
Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house
To the land that I will show you.
I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and curse him that curses you;
All the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.”

 Here is the song (written by Debbie Friedman and Savina Teubal):
L’chi lach, to a land that I will show you.
Lech l’cha, to a place you do not know.
L’chi lach, on your journey I will bless you.
And you shall be a blessing (3x) l’chi lach.

 L’chi lach, and I shall make your name great.
Lech l’cha, and all shall praise your name.
L’chi lach, to the place that I will show you.
L’sim’chat chayim (3x) l’chi lach

And you shall be a blessing (3x) l’chi lach.

Notice how the Torah is quoted throughout—with the song pretty much repeating many parts of God’s call to Abram.

Notice also how the lyrics expand the Divine instructions to include both Sarah and all subsequent generations. The actual Hebrew in the Torah is Lech l’cha, the imperative to a male to go, get going or go forth. The double form is a Biblical way of intensifying the command—and is often translated as surely. L’chi lach is the imperative to a female of the same words. We are thus reminded that God’s instruction to Abram was also to Sarai. Together they went forth and began the religion we now know as Judaism.  

And, as spiritual and tribal and spiritual descendants of Abraham and Sarah, we too are included in the Divine imperative (mitzvah). Just as Abram and Sarai were sent forth on a “Jewish” journey, so are we bidden to continue the ancient Jewish journey in our own lives. Just as they were sent forth to be a blessing, so are we challenged to do the same. Thus does this lovely song become an anthem of Jewish purpose, speaking of both our heritage and our destiny.