Please enjoy a D’var Torah this week from Golda Kaplan, Rosh Shoafim 2017. Originally from Chicago, Golda spent six years as a camper at Ramah four summers on staff. She is graduated last spring from the University of Pennsylvania where she studied Sociology. She recently began a year of service through AmeriCorps at a high school in Philadelphia, supporting high school juniors and seniors in the college application process.

Learnings from Lech L’cha: A Journey for Ourselves
by Golda Kaplan

As I write this in late October, the main thing on my mind is college applications. I am currently working at two different high schools in Philadelphia, supporting students through the college application process, and right now application season is in full swing! So it is no surprise that when I read the familiar words in the first pasuk of this week’s parsha:

לך לך מארצך וממולדתך ומבית אביך אל הארץ אשר אראך
Lech l’cha me’artz’cha umimoladt’cha umibeit avicha el ha’aretz asher areka

it occurred to me that this is almost exactly what I say to my students every day. Leave the land where you were born, your house, for a land (a college campus!) that I will show you. This can be a pretty terrifying and exciting proposition, whether you are Avram or a high school senior.

So what is it about entering a new environment that appeals to a person? For Avram, it might be God’s promises of making him a great nation and blessing him.  It could also be the fact that life in Haran was not all that great. While we don’t know much about Avram’s life before he is instructed to leave his home, what we do know does not sound very glamorous. His wife, Sarai, is not able to have children, his brother died leaving behind a son, Lot, and his father also died in Haran. While the previous parashah ends with a long listing of the generations leading up to Avram, this parashah begins fresh, with Avram the only representative of his lineage.  Leaving the land further solidifies that the new, improved Avram starts now. The words לך לך / lech l’cha translate literally to “go for yourself.” To me, God is essentially telling Avram that this fresh, blessed life, while it may come with perks like becoming a great nation and making a name for himself, is also what will be best for him as an individual. It is something that he should want to do. At the tail end of this week’s parashah, both Avram and Sarai get new names. While there are large proclamations from God about the future generations of Avraham’s children, changing one’s name is ultimately a fairly intimate act. This again emphasizes the personal nature of Avraham’s journey; there is an individual component to his actions, not simply a narrative of a future nation and prosperity.

For my high school senior students, there is similarly an intrinsic understanding that leaving the places and things you know allows you to become a better version of yourself. Going to college is an example of an opportunity to “go, for yourself,” an opportunity to step outside your comfort zone.  In fact there are arenas to do this every day. When you conceptualize a risk as a necessary step to becoming the person you aspire to be, the risk becomes less scary. I hope this can be a week of personally fulfilling risks and reaching outside of the spaces you are comfortable. Shabbat Shalom!