Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – Lech L’cha

I met a homeless man the other day. I was delivering our synagogue food collection to a food pantry/homeless shelter. We spoke briefly after the truck was unloaded. I asked him his story. He used to be in management for a business that went bankrupt. He lost his house and eventually, his family. He had another offer, but could not cope with the way his career had derailed. “I hit bottom.” I asked him how he found his way to the shelter to seek help. “Someone told Abraham that journeys were leaps of faith.” Ok, I know this story. Abraham had it all. Abraham had money and family. Abraham had servants. Still, God called Abraham and he left his comfortable land and went on a journey. I was not sure of his connection with the story. Abraham was a wealthy man who voluntarily left it all when he heard God’s call. He had a lot to lose if it did not turn out well. Abraham took a leap of faith. But this man? He had already lost everything. What was his risk? “Deciding that life had to have meaning was my leap of faith.”

In that instant, I saw Abraham standing right in front of me. We make lots of presumptions about Biblical characters. Beyond the debate of whether or not they actually existed, we take the snippets that we get about their life stories, and build lengthy biographies. What if Abraham had all the material goods any one could think to want, but lacked any depth in his soul? The Torah is relatively silent about the first 75 years of his life. We are told that he is born, and that his father takes him traveling. The sages felt the need to fill in the years with stories of spiritual heroism. He sustains himself in a cave until he is three years old to avoid being killed by the evil King Nimrod. He smashes his father’s idols awakening his father to the hypocrisy of idolatry. He walks through a fiery furnace unscathed. Sages created all of these stories to justify how, or better, why, he merited God’s call. Why did he have to be a hero in order to hear God?

Standing with this man at the shelter, I found affirmation in a teaching I hold dear, “God speaks to all people; some of us listen.” Torah did not include any stories of Abraham’s youth intentionally. Abraham lived a mundane existence. He amassed wealth, but had nothing of spiritual value to show for his years. I imagine that he struggled to find meaning in life, and when he truly learned that all of his possessions provided him with little or no enlightenment, he searched for something more. He did not leave his fortunes behind. His wealth was not the problem. His simply lacked any reason to be excited about appreciating the miracle of being. Standing with this man at the shelter, I came to grips with something new, “We can all be heroes.” It takes faith to not only admit that you are stuck, but then to take the first steps on the journey to find faith. We cannot prove that any next moment is going to happen, and yet, we forge through life fully faithful that there is some reason for doing so. It takes a lot of faith to admit that even when you have everything money can buy, without faith, none of it matters. Abraham’s leap of faith was no different than that of the man with whom I conversed.

Perhaps this is why people pursue power; they have not yet learned that having more stuff, money, or power does not translate into experiencing greater value in life. This is not to say that resources to do the things we want to do has no value, but every day we read about people who, despite having more than we can imagine having still crave more. Wars exist because there are people who never feel that they “have” enough.

We have to learn to see living as an opportunity for blessing. God tells Abraham, go on this journey. You will be blessed by others on the way. This man at the shelter has experienced each of these blessings on his path to recovery. In pursuing their own faith journeys they brought blessings to others with whom they shared their stories. Most of us are not as financially well endowed as Abraham, nor caught in the depths of rebuilding a ruined life as is my new friend. Somewhere in between, each of us are wrestling with our own faith journeys. We know, though, blessings exist and simply wait for our acknowledgment. However Abraham heard the call, it took a voice to wake him to this epiphany. For my friend, it was a priest who held him in hope. We have such amazing power for inspiration. Who will hold us? Who will we be blessed to hold? Shabbat Shalom.