alternate textMost of us have a fairly good idea what we want for ourselves. We know what we would like to become or what we would like to achieve or what kind of life we would like to live. Sometimes we speak it out and spell it out to others. Our desires, our goals, our ambitions. Sometimes we prefer not to talk about it publicly. But we still think about it and dream about it and even pray about it. Because, most of the times, we know exactly what we want for ourselves out of life. Question is, what does Yahweh want for us? And is this the same as what we want for ourselves? Have we tried really hard to find out what Yahweh wants for us? Do we believe that what He wants for us may be better than what we want for ourselves? And then, of course, the most important question: Are we willing to set aside our desires and our own ideas if we find out that they contradict those things that Yahweh wants for us?

This week’s Torah portion is known as “Lech Lechah” and it begins with Yahweh’s word to Avram in Bereshit (Genesis) 12:1: “Go yourself out of your land, from your relatives and from your father’s house, to a land which I show you.” The first two words “go yourself” is an attempted translation of the words “Lech lechah”. Literally, the words “lech lechah” means “go for yourself” or “go, on behalf of yourself” or “go, for you own benefit”. Some translations (like the Young’s Literal Translation: “Go for thyself”) have translated this verse accordingly.

Why would Yahweh command Avram to go to another land “for himself”? Why not just use the normal way of telling someone to go somewhere? No doubt, there must be a reason for this unique combination of words. It turns out that Yahweh used these exact words to indicate to Avram that He had a plan for his life and that He (Yahweh) would like him (Avram) – for his own sake and for his own good – to walk and to choose and to live according to that plan. He wanted Avram to know that going to another land was not something he was required to do, simply because it was Yahweh’s desire. No, it was something he was required to do, because it was “for him” – for Avram, and even for the generations after him. The Almighty is not someone who dishes out commands, left, right and center, just for his own pleasure or for the sake of showing off his authority. We may be sure that He always has good reason why He expects certain things from us. Sometimes we have no idea what those reasons are. But many times He will reveal that what He requires of us, is for our own benefit and for our own good.

There is another reason why the exact words “lech lechah” – “go for yourself” – were used. Yahweh wanted Avram to realize that what was about to follow, even in the years to come, would always be part of the Father’s design to bring Avram to a high level of knowledge of himself and complete honesty and integrity within himself. All of us were created with great care and planning by Yahweh, the Almighty. The best we can do in life is to discover our true selves and to realize the deepest potential and the destiny that Yahweh has built into each one of us, individually. Yahweh wants us to live in honesty and integrity. He does not want us to live with self-deceit, believing and following after things that are not based upon truth and, consequently, living with feelings of guilt and regret because we have lived a lie and have not been true to ourselves and to our Creator.

One can clearly see that this is indeed what Yahweh had in mind for Avram, just by looking at the parashah as a whole. In Gen 12:2 we read these words: “And I shall make you a great nation, and bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.” Not many people know the true meaning of the word “bless” or “blessing” – even though they may use the word repeatedly. The primary meaning of the word “blessing” (Heb: “baruch”) is to kneel down – either to receive a blessing or to give a blessing (to Yahweh or to others). Those without humility (those who are not humble and honest enough to kneel down) cannot truly receive a blessing. Neither can they be, or give, a blessing. Because a blessing can only be received or given by those who are honest with themselves and are not held back by pride or pretense or make-believe. That is why Yahweh appeared to him again in Gen 17:1 (also part of this parashah) and said to him: “I am El Shaddai – walk before Me and be perfect, (be honest, be someone with integrity).” Avram was able to become a blessing to his own people and eventually to all the nations of the world because he listened when Yahweh told him to be honest and to do certain things “for himself” or for his own sake.

So, was there another time when Yahweh told Avram to do something for himself? There was, indeed, and we read about this in Gen 22:2: “Take your son, now, your only son Yitschak, whom you love, and go (for yourself) to the land of Moriyah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I command you.” Having previously commanded Avram to leave his home country (for his own sake), Yahweh was not yet done with the process of teaching Avram (now Avraham) to be someone with integrity and to be stripped of all forms of self-deceit. This, the second most radical thing that Yahweh had ever required of Avraham, was also introduced with the words “go, for yourself”. Imagine the kind of thoughts that must have entered his mind when he received this commandment. How can Yahweh expect this of me? What will happen to the promise that I have received? How can this be for myself? But Avraham obeyed – Yahweh saw the integrity of his heart and did not forsake Avraham for one single moment.

The world that we live in, is in dire need of the kind of honesty and integrity and humbleness that was evident in the life of someone like Avraham. I believe that Yahweh is still, up to this day, telling people to do certain things for themselves. Why? Because, especially in our day, people can so easily deceive themselves or become confused within themselves. Because they tend to listen to all the voices out there, to what others are saying and what others are doing and therefore find it increasingly difficult to hear the voice of the Almighty amidst all of this.

Halloween has come and gone this past week. Perhaps some of you may not even have noticed it. Thankfully, it’s not such a big issue around here but on the American based website, “Huffington Post”, far more than a hundred posts or blogs with some reference to Halloween have been written over the past two days alone! Many of these articles refer to the fact that Halloween has clear-cut pagan roots and then adds, almost in the same breath, that there is nothing wrong partaking in its activities wholeheartedly. Many people worldwide, who confess that they believe the Word of Yahweh, fall in this category and become extremely irritated when someone tries to tell them that Halloween is out of bounds.

This is why Yahweh told the people He loved to do certain things for themselves – not only Avraham but other’s too. He wanted them to be upright and honest and truthful and set free of any form of self-deceit. We all know how easily it can happen that we deceive ourselves when it comes to the things we believe and the things we do. It happens with Halloween. It also happens with Christmas. Does the following sound familiar? “I know that Christmas originated with the pagan feast of Saturnalia, but I keep it for different reasons.” It happens with the Ten Commandments (“The Ten commandments are essential for spiritual health but beware of the poison of the fourth commandment!”). It happens with the celebration of the Scriptural feasts (“Enjoy the symbolism of the feasts but don’t make it a requirement to observe the feasts!”). It happens with the Name of the Almighty (“Do everything in honour of the Name of the Almighty but don’t bother calling upon his Name literally!”). It happens with how people view the concept of forgiveness of sins (“The Messiah granted forgiveness for our sins and at the same time, relieved us of the requirement of obeying the commandments of his Father!”). It happens with the identity of the Messiah (“The Messiah is the Mediator and High Priest, mediating between man and the Almighty, but He is also the Almighty Himself!”). It happens with regards to people’s understanding of death (“When the Messiah returns, those who believed in Him will be raised from the dead, but in the meantime, those who die as believers, go to heaven immediately!”). It happens with the way churches talk about tithings (“The law of tithing is alive and well today, but the rest of the laws of the Old Testament have been nailed to the cross!”). It happens with people’s understanding of discipleship (“The Messiah is our role model and we are his followers, but we are not to keep the Torah as He did!”).

What Yahweh wants for us is always for our own good. And what we need today, more than anything else in this world, is to be set free of the burden of believing half truths and contradictions, the burden of aligning ourselves with the way the majority of people is thinking – not only the majority in the world, but also the majority among the churches of this world. We need to become even more serious and more dedicated than before – in the matter of complete obedience – not only for the sake of Yahweh and for the honour of his Name, but also for ourselves; for our own sakes and for our own survival in this world.

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