Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Health Dose of Torah: Lech L’cha

“Life is a journey and not a destination.” I have heard these words begin funerals, weddings, and baby namings. Even while we stand in place to mark specific moments in time, the ultimate value of living ties itself to the flow of time and not simply the moments of loss or celebration. Abraham Joshua Heschel taught us, “Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.” We spend so much time focusing on the bookmarked moments and events blocked on our calendars, that we forget to focus on the continuum of blessings and challenges that create the broad spectrum portrait of life.

This past weekend, I gained a daughter, as my son married his beloved Emily. The next morning, we celebrated my grandson’s first birthday. That afternoon and the next day, we toured universities with the last child still living at home.  We journeyed through a host of celebrations over the course of a short period of time, even as we remembered that my late wife missed every moment. Without her, though, none of this would have been. Reverend Ed Daniels from Myrtle Beach was there. He was the DJ for my son’s Bar Mitzvah 16 years ago. He wanted to come be part of this weekend. He brought his wife and twin sons. The last time I saw them, they were 4. They have grown into incredibly talented young men. Family came from everywhere. Life is a journey. 

We experienced so much of the life cycle all in four short days! No wonder we are exhausted! Seriously, though, even with all of the focus on the future and the remembrance of the past, we got to spend a lot of time enjoying the present. Now that we are back home, how much of it still impacts our daily lives? How much of life’s journey do we take for granted? We plan and plan and plan for events, enjoy them in the moment and then are saddened when they are over.

It seems to me, that the planning should include the way in which we will process and hold on to the moments, continuing to learn from them as we progress through life. My son got married, but the celebration of that day is meaningless unless we can count it as a transition into blessing. Even while we place so much emphasis on the event, on the moment, the wedding was a day of celebration; the marriage is the measure of the blessing.

This week’s Torah portion sees God call Avram (not yet Abraham). God tells him to go on a journey. He is supposed to leave his father’s home and traverse the world, sharing the concept of blessing at every stop along the way. The entirety of Torah then teaches us how to go beyond sharing good news for the moment, but rather blessings for the long haul. The blessing is transitive and not episodic or transactional. I am only blessed with your company if, after we part, I still feel tied in to the blessing.

The word “Shalom” illustrates this point most perfectly. We use it as a salutation of greeting and parting. In one, we celebrate that we are more whole now that we are together and plan on maintaining the added blessings when we part company. 

When Israel travels across the wilderness, we learn the moral failure of seeing life’s celebrations as merely episodes of things that happen. Despite the many signs and wonders Israel experiences through the wilderness, (freedom from Egypt and the sea parting for starters) Israel continues to fail in faith. There is no long term memory or continuum through which these miraculous events create the bigger picture of existence.

Lech l’cha, the title of the portion, literally means to get up and move … and keep moving. The moment that we stagnate in growing our spirit and blessings, life loses its value. You can schedule event after event of immense celebration, but if they are only events and only episodes, they will have no long-term value and will provide no real blessing.For the blessing of having been together to mature, we need to do more than show up at events. Having been together in that moment, we need to find ourselves together more often and more productively.

My son and his bride will not have a successful marriage because of a beautiful wedding, but having had the beautiful wedding, I pray that all those there to celebrate will continue growing our impact on and with each other, such that the blessing of the wedding is that long term loving relationships become longer term and more loving. Even being at a funeral can provide blessings. It’s about gratitude. Kak Sari, (modern philosopher) wrote, “Gratitude – an art of painting an adversity into a lovely picture.” If the things we do and the people we love truly hold value, then we ought to spend a lot more time appreciating them as we journey through life. Shabbat Shalom.