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    The three casings – Lech L’cha

    Abraham's journey to Canaan, by József Molnár, 1850

    Abram’s destiny requires a move into the unknown, to the land God will show him. It entails leaving everything he was used to – his country, his birth place and his father’s house (Gen. 12:1).

    The first and third phrases – country and father’s house – do not seem difficult. But how about the word molad’t’cha, usually translated “birth place”?

    Clearly it has some connection with the Hebrew verb that denotes to give birth.

    Some commentators think that “your country and your birth place” go together and indicate “the country of your birth”: the Jewish Publication Society of America edition renders the phrase, “your native land”.

    Abraham himself uses the same two words in Gen. 24:4, when he tells Eliezer to find Isaac a wife in “my country and my birth place”, and this too could be read as “the country of my birth”.

    But it is surely possible to separate artz’cha, “your country”, from molad’t’cha, and to see this middle word as the link between “country” and “father’s house”.

    A person lives in three concentric circles (Samson Raphael Hirsch calls them three casings).

    The outer one is geographical, “your country”. The inner one is immediate family, “your father’s house”. Between them comes community, and this is what molad’t’cha denotes – the milieu to which the family’s energies, values and priorities are brought, the milieu through which the family contributes to national life.

    There have been times in Jewish history when there was a tug of war between artz’cha and molad’t’cha, when Jews had to be satisfied with their own family and community life and had little chance of playing a part in the affairs of the country.

    There were times when they believed that a role in national life meant, as it were, leapfrogging over the community and playing down their Jewishness or at least limiting it to the home – “A Jew at home, a man in the street” was the saying.

    The ideal situation hinted at in the sidra is that of Abraham, when one is comfortable in all three “casings”.

    But of course if the Divine call comes and one has to move on, all three must be left behind and a new configuration must develop in the destination which beckons.

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