‘When one changes places, one changes one’s fortune’


If you were to ask any of my children, “Where are you from?” you might hear a variety of replies.

They might say, “During which years?” They might also ask, “Do you want to know where I was born? If so, I don’t remember much about that city, but here are all the other places I have lived.” My family is not that unique.


Over the last couple of generations, Americans have become a very mobile society. Many have traveled for their professional advancement. Others are moving in order to be closer to or farther away from family. Still others may be migrating, as do the birds, from colder climates to warmer ones. Americans are a people on the move, and the Jewish community is moving along with them.

In our Torah portion for this week, Lech Lecha, we learn that our most ancient ancestors, Avram and Sarai, were also on the move. As the sedra opens they are instructed by God to leave their land, their birthplace, and their ancestral home for a land which God would show them. For those of us who have moved from place to place, it is not difficult to imagine the feelings that our first Patriarch and Matriarch might have had on hearing of their relocation, especially on such relatively short notice.

At the same time they must have felt excited and anxious, enthusiastic and apprehensive, hopeful and fearful. After all, they were leaving familiar surroundings, family, friends and community for a life in a strange place in which they would be strangers.

In Hebrew there is an old saying, “Meshaneh makom; meshaneh mazal.” This means, “When one changes places, one changes one’s fortune.”

This pithy saying has a great deal of truth to it, at least from my own experience. Whenever we decided to move, and we did so seven times over our 37-year marriage, it was generally in order for me to grow as a rabbinical student and as a rabbi.

In each place we lived we established ourselves and learned something about the culture and the people among whom we resided. I learned so much from each situation in which I found myself, whether that be the Year-in-Israel program, rabbinical school or the different communities in which I served as a rabbi. Each move was an opportunity to reinvent myself, to begin anew and to grow mentally, spiritually and experientially.

The great Torah commentator Rashi, teaches us that one of the first two words of this week’s parashah seems to be superfluous. After all, could God not have simply said, “Lech! – Go!”? Why was the word, “Lecha — to/for you,” added?

Rashi answers his own question by teaching that God was telling them to go for their own benefit. What benefit did this move provide Avram and Sarai? They were able to remove themselves from a toxic environment and to find a fertile field in which to plant the seeds of monotheism. They were able to reinvent their own identities, apart from the identities of their families, their friends and their former community. They were able to grow mentally, spiritually and experientially.

Moving is not only a physical phenomenon. Even if one resides in one place for an entire lifetime, one can still move — not just from neighborhood to neighborhood, but from one level of thinking to another, from one way of conceiving of God and of our human beings to another, from level of maturity to another. Each move can be to our benefit; each move can change our fortune.

No one can stand still. The constant in each of our lives is that we are changing, growing, maturing, learning, moving from one phase of life to another. Lech lecha! Continue to move, to grow, to learn, to gain experience! And do so to your own benefit, as a Jew and as a human being.

Rabbi Josef A. Davidson is Adjunct Rabbi with Congregation B’nai Amoona and a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.