This week’s פרשת השבוע (weekly Torah portion) begins with God’s commandment to Abram to “lech lecha,” often translated as “go forth.” The ensuing verses describe how Abram and his family follow God on a journey from Haran to Canaan. However, a deeper understanding of the text translates “lech lecha” metaphorically, referring to a spiritual journey rather than a physical one. In this interpretation, the phrase “lech lecha” means “Go forth to find your authentic self, to learn who you are meant to be” (Mei Ha-Shiloach).
The lesson of being your true self continues beyond this opening narrative to one of the lesser known stories in the פרשה (Torah portion). When there is a famine in the land of Canaan, Abram and his wife Sarai go down to Egypt, but Abram fears that when the Egyptians see Sarai’s beauty, they will kill him. He therefore instructs Sarai to say that she is Abram’s sister rather than his wife in order to save him. Sure enough, the Egyptians are struck by Sarai, and Pharaoh takes her as his own wife. God in turn afflicts Pharaoh with plagues, which makes Pharaoh angry with Abram for hiding his true identity and causing him such strife. According to Nachmanides, Abram “inadvertently committed a great sin by placing his virtuous wife in a compromising situation” in order to conceal his identity.
A year ago, when I was living halfway around the world teaching English in Taiwan, Abram’s physical journey from his birthplace to a faraway land where he didn’t know anyone resonated with me. Being back at Schechter 9 years after graduating has shifted my focus to Abram’s spiritual journey and to the lesson of being yourself. Whereas in Taiwan’s countryside, being true to my Jewish identity wasn’t so easy, at Schechter I find that being my true self is effortless.
Being yourself is a lesson that my colleagues and I also work on with our students. Be it through direct instruction in social-emotional learning with lessons on feeling confident, accepting others’ differences, and dealing with peer pressure or through more general exploration of what it means to be a Jew or an American, our students are constantly thinking about who they are and how to stay true to that identity. I am so glad to be a part of this school where each student is encouraged to follow the lesson of this פרשה (Torah portion) to bring their own true self- their passions, their talents, their ideas, and their experiences- to our קהילה (community).
Talia Greenberg is an assistant teacher at the Lower School and a Schechter alumna (Class of ’07).