The uncertainty of translating the expression, Lech lecha, comes from the odd syntax in the Hebrew. Lech is simply the imperative form (masculine singular, if you're keeping score) of the verb that means "to go." Lech means "Go!"
The second word, lecha, is a bit more tricky. It appears to be a form of the preposition that means "to," "toward," "for," or "belongs to." The preposition has a suffix that makes it masculine, second person singular.
If you want to skip the grammar lesson, let's say that lecha means something like "to you" or "for you." But that is just the beginning of understanding the phrase.
Most biblical scholars say that adding lecha to lech serves to make the verb more intense. Think of it as God saying, "Get going, Abram! I'm talking to you!" We have an idiom that is something like this in English when a person says, "Get yourself going."
We also notice, though, that lecha sounds a lot like lech. In fact, in Hebrew without the vowel symbols, the two words are spelled identically — "לך לך" — even though they are pronounced differently and are grammatically unrelated. The phrase, lech lecha, has more than a little poetry to it. It begs to be interpreted and to be a source of hidden meanings.
The great medieval commentator Rashi understood lech lechah in absolutely literal terms. He read it as, "Go for you." Rashi wrote that the command means, "Go for your own enjoyment and for your own good." God is telling Abram that this is not just a command to leave home, it is an invitation to adventure, wonder and self-discovery.
Lech lecha is the command that stands at the beginning of Jewish identity. It is the two-word phrase that God uses to set Abram onto the journey toward becoming Abraham and the foundation of God's covenant with the Jewish people. If Rashi is right, it is a journey that does not serve God's purposes alone. It is a journey that serves Abram's own interests, his own enjoyment, and his own good.
We might recommend lech lecha as the most basic command of Torah, superior even to "You shall love Adonai your God," and, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Lech lecha is the command not to get stuck in life, to move forward, to try new things, to be a better person than you thought you could be — and to do it knowing that it is for your own benefit and enjoyment.
Abram became a Jew in the moment when he obeyed the command to leave behind the pain of the past, to break away from the familiar, and to embrace an unknown future with an unknown destination. That is the secret of life. None of us knows where life is taking us. Life is richer, more meaningful and more fulfilling when we embrace the unknown and resist the tendency to play it safe, to lay low, or to settle. The journey is what matters. Enjoy it.
Don't wait for life. Don't miss out on the pleasure of reaching higher. Keep alive with adventure, even when life knocks you around. Pick yourself up. Get yourself going.
Other Posts on This Topic:
Lech Lecha: Facing our Fears, Being Ourselves
Lech Lecha: Be Perfect!