Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Lech L’cha
Just verses before this Torah portion begins, we meet Avram (later known as Avraham) for the very first time. His father took him and his wife Sarai (later Sarah) and the rest of the family and settled in Haran. Now, we meet a 75-year-old Avram who has no children, as his wife is, at this point, barren. The Rabbis go to great lengths to fill in the first 75 years of which Torah remains silent (other than that Dad moved the family).
Midrash after Midrash fills in the gap with storylines that speak to his age of awakening, understanding, faith, self-sufficiency, and the like. One story proffers that a three-year-old Avram emerged from hiding in a cave and looked up at the sun and proclaimed it God. He then saw the moon supplant the sun. He thought the moon must be more powerful than the sun. It must be God. The next morning, as the sun rose, he realized that neither the sun nor the moon was god. There was a God who controlled them both (and everything else). Maimonides argues that Avram could not have understood God until he was 40, the age of wisdom. Other stories posit ages between 4 and 75 for his first encounter with God.
Why do our sages feel the need to fill in the blanks? Well, when God calls Abraham, one of the questions we ask is why him? What is so special about this man that God chose him? Perhaps it is not really about just him. The sages know what each other has written; they knew of all these differing proposed dates for Avram’s epiphany.
Our sages understood that this story and its potential teaching speaks to each of us – very personally. The point? Well, perhaps each understood that our lives do not stagnate and with each day comes a new level of wisdom/experience. Each day, we see the world through a broader or narrower lens, based on yesterday’s engagements. No differently than reading the same Torah yields new commentaries each year, our relationship with faith changes and each moment is an opportunity for a new epiphany or awakening.
As I reflect on my faith journey, I do not recognize the many past iterations of “me.” I cannot say that I was inauthentic, or that I am better or smarter now. I can only say that I am different than I was and most certainly from what I will be. The Midrashic paradigm of Avram tells us to be open to learning, growing, sometimes shrinking, and always evolving.
I stay alarmed at the way in which people dig their heels into entrenched ideals and shut the door on any possible to learn, as they proffer their own “perfect” answers for all time. How can we exist in relationships when we refuse to listen, to engage, to learn with each other? We live in an era, though, where disagreement on any issue draws a forever line between people on every issue.
How can people exist in faith when instead of turning their swords into plowshares, they turn their plowshares into targeted missiles and their pruning hooks into daggers? In this country, the physical violence lays tempered for now, but the damage we inflict on the dignity of our nation, our religious traditions, and on our neighbors and family – all in the name of GOD – is untenable.
If, as our tradition teaches, every day prospectively opens the door for a “lev tahor – a new heart” and “hizdamnoot chadasha – a new opportunity,” we have an obligation to pay more attention. If we refuse to, then going to worship, praying over food, health, well-being, or peace is an utter waste of time. Prayer opens hearts and minds. It does not build walls and separation. It’s time to pray – to intentionally pray – and learn to hear each other.
We need to stop throwing the partisan manipulated rhetoric at each other. There are facts; there are truths; many are inconvenient and some beyond our understanding, but they are there. On Yom Kippur, we read from Deuteronomy that truth is not so far in the heavens or across the waters that someone has to bring it to us. It is available to each of us. We just have to pay attention. Shabbat Shalom.