It would not be an exaggeration to state that the two words that open this parashah and lend it its name—Lech lecha, "Go, to you"—are the most important words ever spoken in history. With these words, God set Abraham on the course that would reverse the process of degeneration that humanity had been locked into ever since the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, a course that would eventually lead it to the Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

There were, as we know, a number of righteous individuals who preceded Abraham, but none of them had been successful—and some of them not even interested—in stemming the tide of estrangement from God that had overtaken the earth. At best, they preserved the old traditions within their sequestered hideouts, sheltered from a world antagonistic to Divinity and safe from its corruptive influences. But these righteous individuals lacked the courage or creativity necessary to resist and oppose this corruption and to try to heal the rift between heaven and earth.

Abraham, in contrast, was not fazed by the rampant corruption around him; on the contrary, it was precisely the world's depravity that inspired him to become an activist. As we saw at the end of the preceding parashah, Abraham circulated among his contemporaries, pointing out the illogic of their way of life and encouraging them to join his monotheistic revival.

Still, despite his impressive accomplishments, Abraham's efforts were limited by the fact that he was speaking only from his personal convictions and out of the force of his own reasoning. To the people whom he addressed, he merely represented a more intellectually honest and morally virtuous version of themselves. True, he and his contemporaries had witnessed God's miraculous intervention in life when he was rescued from Nimrod's furnace,1 so both he and they had been exposed to the existence of a transcendent God not bound by the limits of nature or human reason. But Abraham had not yet reached the next stage—the awareness that this transcendent God can be encountered within mundane life as well. The prevailing notion was that God was immanent, assuming the guise of nature, and transcendent, occasionally defying nature; but human intellect could not conceive of the possibility that the transcendent God could also be found immanently within nature and everyday life. Therefore, monotheism in that era was hardly more than deism—the acknowledgment that God had created the world and had set the mechanism of nature in motion.

All this changed when God spoke His first words—"Lech lecha"—to Abraham. Firstly, the very fact that God openly responded to a human being's efforts to dedicate his life to truth changed the rules forever. God demonstrated that He is indeed accessible to those who sincerely seek Him. (True, God had spoken to Noah, but He did so solely on His own initiative; Noah did not actively seek out God, nor did he actively try to promulgate monotheism, as we have seen.)

Secondly, with these words, God transformed Abraham into His emissary. Abraham was no longer acting merely as an inspired visionary; he could now speak with an authority beyond himself, making the conviction of his message incomparably more effective than it had previously been. It was thus only through his efforts after God spoke to him that the Divine Presence began its true descent back to earth.

Finally, and most importantly, by telling him to "go," God made Abraham into a new person who could now progress beyond his own abilities. "Go, to you" means "Go to your true, higher self, the self you could never reach on your own." The definition of a Godly person was no longer "a person who connects to God as far as the limits of human capacity allow"; its definition had now become "a person who connects to God by infinitely progressing beyond the limits of human capacity."

In this context, God in parashat Lech Lecha takes the dynamic initiated in parashat Noach to its next level. In parashat Noach, we saw how God introduced the notion of teshuvah to the world, the possibility to correct wrongdoing and remake our lives even after committing what would otherwise appear to be fatal mistakes. Now, in parashat Lech Lecha, God not only makes it possible for us to return to our original selves, He even makes it possible for us to "return" to our authentic, fundamental selves, the selves we never even knew existed, constantly uncovering new and infinitely higher vistas of our innate Divine personality and connection with God.

Based on this opening, we would expect the rest of parashat Lech Lecha to chronicle Abraham's successes in fulfilling his Divine mission. And indeed, throughout most of the parashah, this is how we see Abraham, as he valiantly rescues his nephew from a foreign invasion, astutely concludes beneficial commercial treaties with the local chieftains, and justly receives God's promise for both the blessing of offspring and the inheritance of the Land of Israel.

Nevertheless, the first major incident recorded in this parashah—the famine that occurred immediately upon Abraham's arrival in the Land of Israel—rather than auguring success, threatened to doom his entire enterprise to failure when he had scarcely embarked on it. Firstly, the famine could have easily been construed by the local population as the vengeance of the gods of nature against the insolent missionary activities of this newly arrived monotheist. Secondly, instead of being allowed to pursue his monotheistic revival in God's Promised Land, Abraham was thrust into the world's greatest bastion of paganism, a land so thoroughly steeped in idolatry that it considered its kings to be gods. Egypt's hopeless obsession with its gods surely dwarfed the purely utilitarian worship of nature that Abraham had encountered in his native Mesopotamia and in his new home in Canaan. How ironic, then, it must have seemed to witness this ambitious monotheist, the self-proclaimed servant of the Almighty God, no sooner having begun his great undertaking in the Promised Land suddenly reduced to seeking the mercy of a cultural environment that mocked and contravened his every ideal.

Yet, in a miraculous reversal of fortune, Abraham soon had the Egyptians begging him for mercy, and shortly thereafter, he returned to the Land of Israel even better equipped to further his goals than he was before he left: with greater wealth, with a greater reputation, and accompanied by the Egyptian princess who would, in time, become the mother of his first child. It thus became retroactively clear that this apparent regression was actually a further stage in Abraham's progression toward his goals, an integral part of his Divine mission to "go."

The lessons for us from parashat Lech Lecha are, thus, firstly, not to be intimidated by the world—neither by the world outside us nor by the "world" of personal desires, fears, or preconceived notions within us. Abraham and Sarah were only two individuals, but because they dedicated themselves to the truth, God became their partner and made them into His emissaries. Secondly, once we answer God's call to "go, to you—to yourself," we are no longer bound by the limits of our own capabilities; even apparent regressions will ultimately prove to be an integral part of the process leading to ever-higher levels of Divine consciousness.2