Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Lech L’cha
“I set out on a narrow way many years ago, hoping I would find true love along the broken road. But, I got lost a time or two, wiped my brow, and kept pushing through. I couldn’t see how every sign pointed straight to you.” The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and then Rascal Flatts recorded these words. They speak of a man’s journey to find his one true love. In between, Selah, a popular Christian gospel rock band, recorded it. Their cover story is that it defined the journey to God.
In true Rabbinic fashion, I believe they are all correct. We live in a world of multiple entendre, and each of us is on a journey – or many of them. Stories teach lessons beyond the literal story and often intended or unintended morals in their authors’ eyes.
In either case, life is a journey through blessings and challenges. We can exist in a bubble or vacuum, but living requires experiences. Pope Francis teaches us, “Life is a journey. When we stop, things don’t go right.” No one can expect that the journey will be without peril and “brokenness,” but there can be no growth without the risks.
In this week’s Torah portion, God calls to Avram (he is not yet Abraham). “Lech l’cha – Get up – go!” God tells him to leave his father’s home – his place of comfort and ease. God commands him to take his family and everything he has and go on a journey. God will show him the place(s) along the way.
Over the course of the journey, he experiences amazing blessings and frightful challenges. He responds well in some and fails in others. He protects his nephew Lot and fails to protect his own son, Isaac.
The Rabbis teach us that this story speaks to us, not of one man’s travels and travails but the soul’s journey through life. There is a deeper spiritual significance to God’s command. “[Leave] your land, your birthplace, and your father’s house.” The Hebrew words for land (eretz) and desire (ratzon) bear a relationship. One’s land represents one’s natural desire and comfort zone. “Your birthplace—moladtecha” refers to one’s home – place of security. “baet avikha – your father’s house” refers to man as a mature and rational being, forging his mindset, character, and behavior with the transcendent objectivity of the intellect. Placing the “Mi – from” in front of each phrase tells us that we must leave the place where someone does “adulting” for us. We must learn to stand on our own.
Extending the metaphor, we must grow past letting other people make up our minds for us. Our world will fall apart so long as someone else’s propaganda and ideology become the basis for our truth. We have to engage life in our own discernment. We consume the rhetoric of politics and religion as if a narrow-minded god instructed us to shut out the rest of the world. In the realm of fashion and food, agencies pay people millions of dollars to convince us to love only their products.
Abraham’s journey starts at the age of 75. Moses first saw the burning bush at 80. Only after that did he confront Pharaoh and lead Israel from bondage. Both men, however, confronted people of all ages who had to be pulled from their complacency and fear. Having heard God’s call, they had to help others feel called to move, choose, and make life more meaningful. Both men had to accept that many would find that meaning in ways different than their own understanding and know that the blessing of faith comes in accepting that variety and individuality are sacred rights. God creates with a wide and varied paintbrush.
The number of people who give up is alarming. We need to help people know that they can be better. We must also find ways past those who have traded blind obedience to their “baet avikha” to blind obedience to their own narrow versions of God. “Giving it all to God” is also an abdication of freedom and serves only to drive different thinking people – all Godly – apart. Relationships are unique and sacred: to hold value, they have to be consensual and dignified – especially with God. I choose to love and celebrate my faith even as I accept my obligation to respect your right to do the same – even in your own way. Let’s heal this world.