God said to Avram: Go, you, from your land, from your place of birth, and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great.... (Genesis 12:1-2)
Avram (the original name of Avraham) strikes us as the paradigm of a person on a journey. He hears a call, leaves home, and then for the years that follow literally travels, toward the blessings that God promised will be there sometime in the future.
Avraham's journey seems very different from, say, the journey of Odyseeus. The Greek story is about heroism and glory, and ends up in the peace of hearth and home. Avraham's story, by contrast, has no tidy ending. The promises of numerous descendents and a promised land seem far away. His life is only the beginning of something that will take generations to unfold.
We say life is a journey, and that the journey is more important than the destination. Is that the lesson of Avraham?
Rashi, the greatest of the medieval Jewish commentators, takes note of the first words of the parasha. Lech l'cha -- "go, you"? -- is a funny construction in Hebrew. The second word seems unnecessary. Who else would be going? Literally, the words mean "go to you" or "go for you." Rashi takes the second translation. He understands God's directive to Avram like this: Go for your own good and for your benefit. There -- unlike here -- I will make you a great nation...Also, there I will let the world know your true nature.
Rashi says that the journey has two purposes. One is to get Avram out of a place where he cannot fully experience the blessings due to him. The other is to get him to a place where others can understand who he really is.
Rashi ignores entirely two aspects of our modern journey cliche. He doesn't say anything about the process of the journey, and he doesn't say anything about growth. Rashi in fact adds something to our understanding of Avram's journey as well. It isn't just about Avram; it's about the world. The world needs to know him, to learn from him -- and where he is at the start isn't allowing that to happen.
In Rashi's view, Avram's journey is not the typical story of a young hero setting out from home, experiencing challenges, and discovering himself. Instead, Avram has already grown and come to certain truths before the start of his journey. He's not discovering himself, but discovering where he fits. Where the qualities and insights inside him already can come out, can teach others, can make an impact.
That's a less self-centered view of the journey. It is, Rashi says, to Avram's personal benefit, but only because Avram is identified with his own dream, of sharing his wisdom about the Power of the universe with others. The evolution of that wisdom may have been the kind of journey we usually talk about.But the Torah doesn't tell us about that. Instead, the Torah is most interested in how one important person's journey builds a foundation in the world. That can be the test of our "journeys" as well. They are significant if they point beyond ourselves, if they lead us to the place where our own "true nature" is a gift to others around us.