God gives Abraham dancing lessons (Genesis 12:1)

by Bob Schwartz

Free range Bible study leads to some surprising revelations.

This week’s Torah portion is Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1-17:27). It is the beginning of the Abraham narrative, which in a sense is the beginning of all that comes after in the Bible and in the three Abrahamic religions that now encompass about four billion people.

Genesis 12 begins with this command to Abraham:

Lech lecha

The Hebrew is variously translated, but a common English version is “go forth”.

As Richard Elliott Friedman translates and explains:

And YHWH said to Abram, “Go from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house to the land that I’ll show you.

Go. Hebrew lech lecha. Much has been made of the second word in this phrase, which means “for you.” No translation quite captures the sense of the Hebrew (“Go you,” “Get you,” “Go for yourself”)….I believe it is better to use no English term than to use any of the possible equivalents, all of which are clumsy English.

The Oxford Study Bible has an unusual way of explaining the command:

This is the first of three divine speeches in which a patriarch is given travel directions.

“Travel directions” seems a good way of describing it. This led me to Kurt Vonnegut and Cat’s Cradle, his novel most directly about religion, the fantasy faith of Bokononism. Among the teachings:

As Bokonon says: “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”

If we accept the wisdom of Bokonon, combined with the insights of the Oxford Study Bible, we can conclude that Abraham was indeed given “peculiar travel directions” and that God was offering him (and us) dancing lessons.

That sounds about right.

© 2022 Bob Schwartz