by Joseph Gindi, Jewish Studies Teacher 

God said to Avram, “Go forth: from your land, from your kindred, 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.” (Genesis 12:1-2)

This Shabbat – as our community sets out on our journeys from Oakland and Marin, from San Francisco, Berkeley, and Daly City, to Camp Newman, the land the student life team has shown us – these opening verses of Lech Lecha, this week’s Torah portion have particular resonance.

“Lech lecha” – “Go to yourself”? “Go for yourself”? “Go with yourself”? This odd phrasing has led many commentators to ask, why didn’t God just say, “Lech!” – “Go!”? Rashi, a medieval Jewish commentary, suggests that God was reminding Avram that his travels would be for his own benefit, for his own good.

Similarly, we might ask why the destination was kept a secret. Why didn’t God just tell Avram where he was going, but rather only promise to show him along the way? Rashi again explains that this was to keep the destination dear in his eyes. But this explanation only raises new questions. Why would discovering the destination along the way make it more dear to us?

This Shabbat as we depart for the Shabbaton, our literal destination is known to us, but what is not known, is where are we going as individuals and as a community. What kinds of insights, connections, relationships and experiences will this journey of personal exploration and community building produce? When I look at it this way, I can make sense of Rashi’s explanation that the destination is more dear to us when we don’t know exactly where we are going.

First, it makes the journey itself more valuable. We pay more attention to what is present for us along the way, and how we are making our way when we don’t know the final destination. Rather than barrel through to the end, we have to take in the route itself. Second, the destination becomes more valuable itself. As you go along the way you can correct the course to make sure that you get to where you really need to go. And, if you don’t know if or how you are going to get there, the arrival feels like an accomplishment to savor.

In this way, Avram’s journey isn’t simply about following a divine GPS, but about traveling in a way that keeps him open to the developments along the way and grateful for his ultimate destination. That is the way his journey becomes for his own benefit, for his own good.

This weekend, as we travel into community, into new ways of celebrating Shabbat, into deeper friendships and stronger relationships, I bless that we can pay attention to the journey itself, get to the places we really need to go, and savor all the fruits of our travels.

Lech lecha! Let us go forth into community, so we all might become a blessing.