Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – Lech L’cha
Halloween is a time for all children in America to live Biblically. This Shabbat coincides with the pagan holiday of Halloween. Now, truth be told, I am not sure how many Jews are going to be in synagogue tonight. It’s really ok. We are supposed to be involved in our communal life, and we are supposed to celebrate with our neighbors. I get it. Most poignant is the timing of Halloween this year, because its coincidence with this Torah portion gives us, as Paul Harvey used to say, “The rest of the story.” God tells Abram (not yet Abraham), “leave your home, go on a journey, and go seek blessings.” Tonight, our children will embark on this biblical journey to leave their homes and go on journeys in search of blessings (candy). That is the easy part.
Abram left his home and took his wife Sarai (not yet Sarah) and went on an incredible journey that brought about the western world of faith. The journey was fraught with as much peril as it was filled with blessing. The rest of the instruction from God took this into account, “Those who bless you I (God) will bless, and those who curse you I (God) will curse.” These are pretty much the rules for the festivities tonight. “Trick or treat” really means that if I (trick or treater) don’t get candy, I (trick or treater) will potentially wreak some havoc on your life (house, yard, car, etc). And, people fight this holiday as being anti-biblical!?!
Seriously, this analogy helps us see how the “Command to journey” plays out in even the most unlikely places in our lives. Every day, we awake and go on this journey. Where we pay attention to our daily tasks and our daily relationships, we bring home our wages, bonuses, and “warm fuzzies” that allow us to count the day as successfully lived. Where we fail to pay attention … we bring home alienation. Sounds simple, no? Well, yes, but too simple.
Certainly more than anyone else, we bless and curse ourselves in the most amazing and most heinous ways. We make the choices that bring us closer to warmth and the choices that leave our world cold. We do this in responding to our own behaviors in our choices as to how to respond to others. For Halloween, a candy failure really is no excuse to destroy someone’s property. For our external world, someone’s bad behavior towards us does not have to merit an equally or more invective escalating response. Internally, our failure to accomplish one goal does not necessitate beating ourselves up or demeaning our own self-esteem causing the next failures.
I do not believe that “Lekh l’kha” – “get up and go” is simply a command for a young man to leave his home, knowing that God’s safety net follows him. The command to go and be a blessing is statement of consequences; the most severe of which play out in the ways in which we treat ourselves, present ourselves, appreciate ourselves, and care for ourselves. We are the example to everyone else: the one who presents that paradigm for how we want to be treated. If we behave in a manner that brings warmth, we tell people that warmth matters. Where we are abusive or neglectful of ourselves, we open the door for people to expect that we believe these behaviors are appropriate.
For every journey that we take with our feet, our soul either leads the way blazing the trail or follows, picking up the pieces afterward. Too often, we look to the fortunes in our lives and judge our relative success or failure by how we believe we are seen in the eyes of the other folks around us. What are our obligations to ourselves along the footsteps of these journeys? “those who bless you” … what about whether or not we include ourselves in the word “those?” Pirke Avot (mishnah) teaches, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” The Biblical text really should not be read as, “Those who bless you will be blessed.” Rather, the text should read, “As you are a blessing, people will bless you.”
In the real world? Well, Halloween is a fun holiday in America. What can be bad about sharing sweet gifts with each other? What can be bad? Well, the town in which I live (and really most towns now), has a curfew tonight. Trick or treating ends early in the evening … by law, and all but the private party festivities are over. Why? Because of the destruction and havoc people have wrought on this night. We cause the blessings and the curses.
As to why I am okay that Jews can have fun tonight? There is a real world, and when we wake, it is still Shabbat, and we all have lots of opportunities to celebrate the day we call a prelude to the messianic world to come. Go gather candy and share blessings, join us in the morning to be thankful for this and more. In between, let’s find a way to make the rest of the night blessed, as well.