D'var Torah, Lech Lecha 5780/Fri 8th Nov 2019

by Cantor Tamara Wolfson

The writing is the opinion of the author and does not necessarly reflect that of Kehillah North London.

Over the hills and far away

A million miles from L.A.

Just anywhere away with you

I know we’ve got to get away

Someplace where no one knows our name

We’ll find the start of something new

Just take me anywhere, take me anywhere

Anywhere away with you

Rita Ora wrote this song two years ago, and it became her 11th top ten song in the UK. When she was asked in an interview about the origin of the song, she said: “I wrote a song called “Anywhere” basically saying, ‘Take me anywhere away from here.’ We turned that into ‘anywhere away with you,’ and it became a love song.”

As Sofie mentioned in her D’var Torah, Rita Ora is a refugee whose family came to the UK escaping persecution in Kosovo. During the past 8 years that she has risen to pop culture prominence, Rita Ora has also devoted herself to global political and social justice. Through fundraisers, film campaigns, speeches and performances, Rita has used her platform to champion the rights of immigrants and refugees worldwide. And even in her chart-topping music, her lyrics hearken back to that sense of urgency her parents must have felt when leaving Kosovo: “just take me anywhere away from here”.

Rita said in a 2015 interview:

“My parents brought us to this country with the hope and the dream that we could get a decent education, which is so important for our values, and for what we want to achieve in our lives. [Britain] has given me so much for which I am grateful, but I will always have a special place in my heart for my home town.”

We often relate stories of today’s modern day refugees to the story we read in this week’s parashah of Abram leaving his home, as well as to the story of the Israelites escaping slavery in Egypt, and indeed to the many members of our own families who fled religious or political persecution. These journeys leave a life of hardship behind, but our relief in escaping that hardship is quickly tempered by fear of the unknown along the way.

These days, most of us have car insurance, travel insurance — things that will protect us if things happen along our journeys. But our Biblical ancestors were not so fortunate. Rashi, the acclaimed medieval Rabbinic commentator, noted that traveling is the cause of three main problems for the traveler:

  1. It breaks up family life
  2. It reduces a person’s wealth
  3. It lessens your renown

In Genesis 12:2, God seems to preempt these problems with the following promise: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you. I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.” 

Rashi interprets this verse as God providing Abram solutions to the three main problems of travel. “I will make of you a great nation” equates to having children — solving the problem of a broken family. “I will bless you” means that Abram will be blessed with considerable wealth. And “I will make your name great” ensures that Abram’s reputation will not be tarnished in his travels, and that he will be well-known wherever he goes. In these three ways, God provides for Abram as he makes his way towards the land that God will show him. And we know as our story continues that Abram is indeed a blessing to countless generations of Jews after him. 

While the song “Anywhere” speaks of going someplace where no one knows your name, Abram undergoes a name change from Abram to Abraham and eventually, everyone knows his name. On this Shabbat as we honor the names and stories of all those who have journeyed towards a better life in an unknown destination, we remember our origin stories, our ancestral homelands, and the risks that so many have taken in search of their promised land. May God guard them and us in our going out and our coming in, now and always. Amen.