The Fear of Leaving

October 30, 2020

We can either ignore our fears, be controlled by them, or face them.

One of the biggest challenges each of us face is fear.

Fear of the unknown.
Fear of failure.
Fear of success.
Fear of spiders. That one feels justified.
Fear of the dark.
Fear of conflict.
Fear of the loss of identity.
Fear of change.
Fear of the same.

In some way, each of us must navigate the fears in our lives. We do so by ignoring it, being controlled by it, or facing it. Those are really the only options.

It is with this lens that I read this week’s Torah portion, Lekh lekha. The first verse of the portion says:

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר ה׳ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ׃

The LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”

God tells Abram, not yet Abraham, to launch himself out of his home and into the world, unclear where the destination will lead. However, that’s not actually the beginning of the story!

The Ramban, a Catalonian rabbi who helped reestablish Jerusalem after the Crusades, points out that the journey had already started when Abram’s father, Terah, took the family from Ur Kasdim towards Canaan.

As proof, a few verses before it says:

וַיִּקַּ֨ח תֶּ֜רַח אֶת־אַבְרָ֣ם בְּנ֗וֹ וְאֶת־ל֤וֹט בֶּן־הָרָן֙ בֶּן־בְּנ֔וֹ וְאֵת֙ שָׂרַ֣י כַּלָּת֔וֹ אֵ֖שֶׁת אַבְרָ֣ם בְּנ֑וֹ וַיֵּצְא֨וּ אִתָּ֜ם מֵא֣וּר כַּשְׂדִּ֗ים לָלֶ֙כֶת֙ אַ֣רְצָה כְּנַ֔עַן וַיָּבֹ֥אוּ עַד־חָרָ֖ן וַיֵּ֥שְׁבוּ שָֽׁם׃

Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans for the land of Canaan; but when they had come as far as Haran, they settled there.

Whoa! Terah started the journey for them! They ended up staying in Haran, where they settled, but they had already left Ur Kasdim. So when God says to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house” half of that is already true. They were no longer in his native land.

So what does all of this mean for us?

We are already in the middle of the journey.

For many, starting something new is the most challenging step. What we can learn from this story, and is true about our lives, is that we’ve already started. We don’t have to worry so much about the first step because we’ve already taken it.

Even though Abram’s story “begins” with going out from where he is, his father had already helped get the momentum started. Part of him is already leaving and moving.

Inertia, defined by Newton, is the force on an object that resists change and describes the idea that objects remain in their present state unless acted on by an external force.

Abram, like us, is already moving. Our experiences, interactions, and relationships are the forces that encourage us, push us, and remind us that we’re not at the beginning of our journey. We can push through the fear of starting by remembering we’ve already started.

We had help on our journey.

Abram didn’t do this alone. He had his wife, Sarai, not yet Sarah, to be on this journey with him. I can only imagine the conversations they had together about God’s request that they set out and leave the comfort of “home.” I have no doubt that if Sarai had said no, we’d be reading about Abram who stayed in Haran.

Terah himself, intentionally or not, modeled the experience of picking up and setting out to a new home. Abram already had knowledge of what it was like to leave a place and set out.

Just like them, we have people in our lives, intentionally or not, who are on this journey with us, pushing us from near and far, and showing us what it can be like.

By remembering that others are with us, we can conquer that fear of going alone.

Leaving is an essential part of the story, not the destination.

For both Terah and Abram, the focus is on their leaving, not where they were headed. Terah’s journey doesn’t end up where he had planned at all, landing in Haran instead of Canaan. On purpose or not, this can remind us that the leaving, the testing, the attempt is much more valuable than where we arrive.

If we pay attention, learn from our journeys, we have gained something more meaningful than wherever we had planned to go.

For Abram, he didn’t know the destination. This is much more like our experiences. When I “left” for rabbinical school, I didn’t know that I was going to end up in Pittsburgh. It was a part of the unknown destination of my life so far. That is because the leaving is much more important.

In a conversation I recently listened to between Seth Godin and Tim Ferriss, Godin explains that to learn to juggle, focusing on throwing is more effective than focusing on catching.

By spending our energy learning to “leave,” becoming comfortable with the unknown, we can manage our fear of starting.

In remarks between Michelle Obama and students at Howard University, she shared the following:

“College was probably the most impactful thing that I have done in my life other than being the First Lady and having kids and marrying Barack Obama… It taught me that I could leave home and be successful away from home. It taught me how to open up, how to try new things that are scary, how to buck expectations and beat the odds, and all that good stuff… Just try new things. Don’t be afraid. Step out of your comfort zones and soar, all right?”

Just like Terah and Abram, Michelle Obama reminds us that “leaving home” is a recipe for growth and to engage with our potential.

So when we look at the fears in our lives and try and choose between ignoring, controlled by, or facing them, we can choose the path that is best for us: to face them.

Leave the fears behind and head to a place that is currently unknown to you. That’s where all the growth is.


Thank you for reading! In my With Torah and Love newsletter, I write about Torah, Talmud, self-awareness, and becoming our best selves as students of life and Judaism.

About the Author

Rabbi Jeremy Markiz is a teacher and consultant. He teaches the Torah rooted in personal growth, kindness, intentionality, and bettering the world. He writes the With Torah and Love newsletter.

He helps clergy, congregations, and Jewish organizations grow and communicate clearly in the digital world, develop effective strategies, and solve problems with his consulting firm, Next Level Rabbinics.