A Land that I will Show You

Run from your father’s house, there’s a land that I will show you.
I will make your name a blessing as you float on out.
Run from your father’s house.

Run from your father’s house, there’s a lesson I will teach you.
I will honor all who honor you, curse all who curse you.

And all of the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.

And when you get home, you won’t be alone.
I promise to not look away.

Run from your father’s house.

These are the words of Ari (formerly Ali) Pfefferman, one of the main characters in the television series, Transparent. Throughout the series, all of the Pfefferman children (now adults) are forced to reconsider their identities and their place in the world after the person they have known as their father, Mort Pfefferman, comes out as trans and begins to live her life as Maura Pfefferman.

Ari, who toward the end of the series identifies as gender non-binary, spends a great deal of time lamenting the fact that they never became Bat Mitzvah. Maura, who was at the time of Ari’s ceremony, self-absorbed and concerned with her own, secret questions of identity, quickly relents when her teenager has a moment of rebellion and refuses to go through with the ceremony. “You don’t want to do the Bat Mitzvah? Fine, you don’t have to,” says Maura. The Torah portion that was to be read that day (and this week’s Torah portion), Lech Lecha, haunts Ari for the rest of their life, and they interpret the Torah’s words in the dream-like song above. What will it mean for Ari to leave their father’s house?

This question has puzzled scholars throughout the generations. Our Sages are quite confused about the strange grammatical structure of this phrase and what exactly it means. While we usually translate the words “Lech Lecha” to mean “Go forth,” its literal meaning is: “Go unto you.” Some scholars, like the 13th-century Spanish figure Nahmanides, say that this is merely a literary formality and that there are many examples of this construction in the Hebrew Bible. But others, like Rashi, the 11th-century French scholar, claims that it means: “Go for yourself, for your own benefit, for your own good.”

But Rashi’s statement leaves us with a larger question: How can such a radical break from the past be a good thing? After all, one of our foundational principles as Jews is that we transmit the Torah and its teachings “l’dor va’dor,” from generation to generation. Some Jews recite these very words each day during morning prayers. The Torah instructs us to teach God’s words to our children at every moment of every day; for if we don’t, the enduring chain of tradition will break.

However, this particular Torah portion teaches us that our transmission of tradition must often be balanced with a radical break. The story of Judaism’s founding begins not with a parent passing on a tradition to his child, but rather with a child leaving his father’s home, going to a brand-new, unknown place, guided only by God’s cryptic words: “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Here we see that Judaism starts with an act of revolution, a radical departure, and not an act of continuity. Abraham can bless all of the families of the earth only when he leaves the old traditions behind.

Perhaps this teaches us that the habits, teachings, patterns, and traditions that we receive—both religious in nature and not—from our parents, teachers, and society need to be examined before we pass them down to the next generation. In order to convey what is truly helpful and good, we need to separate it from the hurtful and counter-productive messages that we all receive from those around us. We can transmit what’s important, we can be a blessing for the next generation, only when we figure out which lessons we will keep and pass on, and which ones we will discard or alter.

At Transparent’s conclusion, Ari decides that their individual journey will be to become Bart (combination of the masculine “Bar” and feminine “Bat”) Mitzvah, in order to give themselves the gift of this Jewish tradition that Maura was so quick to discard.

Ari sings: “When you get home, you won’t be alone.” Abraham wasn’t alone when he went on this journey away from the land of his birth and toward the unknown. He was accompanied by his wife, his nephew, all those in his household, and most importantly, by God. Ari also goes through their journey accompanied by their siblings, their rabbi, their community, and maybe even by God, too.

May we all have the strength to evaluate the legacies that we receive from those around us, to decide what we want to preserve and what we want to revolutionize, and to pass even greater blessings on to the next generation. And may we never do so alone.

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