Lech Lecha 5781 – Creating the Journey

By: Michael Carr

How many of us have started a new project, job or relationship without a certainty that came before? And how do we start our journey’s?

For some this could look, feel or sound confusing, stressful, anxiety provoking and frustrating. Perhaps our journey starts because of a life changing event like the death of a loved one, an illness or a new job.

For others the journey of a life changing event could be perceived as a new empowering adventure that could lead to personal success, personal growth or possibly a new true love. Some might even say it’s an exercise in free-will and call it ‘blind faith’.

Maybe, then, this is how Abraham perceived his calling in Lech Lecha which literally means ‘go’ or ‘leave’.  Lech Lecha is a Torah portion woven with many non-descript meanings and relationships (far too many for the next 6 minutes). The Torah portion does not explicitly say that Abraham put all of his faith in G-d, pulled up his pants and saddled up his donkey and left for a specific destination that was designated by G-d.

Nope. In fact, Torah tells us that G-d commands Abraham to leave his home, family and the place where he was born for a destination that G-d ‘eventually’ let him know about.  The certainty that comes with that last statement sounds less than comforting though Abraham was familiar with his belief in free-will.

Interestingly, writer Daniel Lowenstein at AlephBeta points to key parallels in Lech Lecha and the Torah reading for the second day of Rosh Hashanah known as the Akedah or binding of Isaac.  These ideas must be important for all of us given the ‘repetitive’ theme’s of ‘belief in one-G-d’, free-will and  perhaps the idea about a fear of G-d.

Like Lech Lecha where G-d commands Abraham to ‘go’, in the Akedah Torah portion, G-d again commands Abraham to, ‘kill your son, your precious one, the one you love’.  Take him to a mountain, (again, unspecified in the Torah by G-d), & similar to that ‘same destination’ Abraham is to seek out in Lech Lecha (unknown) when leaving home at the age of 75 with his barren 65 year old wife Sarah.

What in the world is this about?  How can one simply receive and follow a commandment to pack-up and leave one’s home, family and the familiarity of a lifelong experience for an unknown destination and ‘promises’ like being the father of a great nation with many kids, particularly when faced with a big infertility issue.  Certainly there were no ‘Dr. Jeff Busch’s’ around or anything close to in-vitro procedures.  What then? Is it simply a compelling belief and faith in ‘one-G-d’?

The Torah tells us Abraham finds his destination (in both cases without direct guidance from G-d),  complies to leave home and the same can be said  to be the case when he takes Isaac to be bound at Mount Moriah. What some may find remarkable is that Abraham’s belief in G-d was so compelling he also followed the direction in both Lech Lecha and the Aekdah that he builds altars to honor G-d. The first altar is built after Abraham and Sarahs journey.  The second  altar is built to prepare for the sacrifice of his (only) 36 year old son.

So what set’s Abrahams journey in motion?  Was it the promise of becoming the father of a great nation? Or was it an imbued purpose coupled with Abraham’s ‘free-will’?

To quickly compare and contrast, George Washington was also the father of a great nation and had a certain level of free-will though as we know that’s a different story for a different time.  George had a different purpose behind how and why he got to his/our destination compared to Abraham and Sarah.

While the determination and belief for Abraham and Sarah to leave is not clearly outlined in the Torah, it seems as though their ‘collective free-will’ and belief may have caused them to follow a long time relationship to G-d that the sages would have us believe started in Abraham’s childhood.

We remember the Midrashic (not Torah) story of Abraham that tells of a child who sees his dad, Terah’s, ‘premium idols’ in Terah’s  ‘premium idol work-shop’ ready for use by the local idol worshiping community. With determined certainty Abraham smashes all but one idol and leaves the hammer in the tallest and biggest of Terah’s idol creations.  Maybe this rabbinic story is one of the reasons sages use to validate 75 year old Abraham’s journey decades later away from his family, away from his home and the place he was born.

As the story goes, his father comes to the scene of the idolatry ‘massacre’ and says, ‘Why did you do this Abram?’

Abraham’s righteous-rebellious yet respectful reply may have sounded something like, ‘Hey dad it wasn’t me.  It was the biggest, tallest and strongest idol that all of us pray too.  I mean after all you build them and we pray to them.  It had to be this way – right?  After all we believe that the world operates on the basis of these idols that you create to help us all promote the idolatry and everything in it that influences our highest beliefs in life. Right dad?’

Perhaps another impetus for Abraham to leave his home is due to the death of his 205 year old brother Haran. Due to his older brothers passing, Abraham sees the journey as a meaningful way to start a new chapter.  Yet once again it is up to us to decide since there is no definitive Torah explanation.

How do we start our ‘Journey’s’?  Can you remember anytime in your life when you began a journey without all the pieces in place or a set direction?

One memory of a personal ‘young adult’ journey I took began after completing graduate school.  In this ‘nomadic time’ of my live, I was grateful to be given the opportunity to move back to the home I grew up in to save a few dollars before consciously making a planned decision to move to another location.  Yes my room had changed & had become not a shrine to my departure but rather a storage area filled with stuff that had collected, been mis-placed or moved into my room, over a six year absence.

A few months following my return to the home where I grew up I was reminded by my ‘parental property managers’ that I was living under ‘their roof’ and needed to be home at a specific time.  This created an unintended consequence for our little community as this one rule lit a fire under my back-side.  So yes I got the message, exercised my free-will, and began looking for another place to live and moved out within 48 hours. In the end I was thankful for the experience and was grateful to return for brief visits until the home was sold last year.

How can we prepare for inevitable planned (or otherwise) changes in our lives to make our ‘Journey’ more certain? Well since we are short on time and you could actually Google the 1.6 M plus results for moving forward in life here are a few ideas.

1) Check-out a powerful mindfulness experience you can practice daily called guided visualization imagery by writing/journaling scripts or meditation or a combination of both.

2) Seek out inspiring and thought provoking educational opportunities through personal connections, conversation, art, music and books.

3) Read and study Torah and give yourself permission to do something new for the Kehilat like write a D’var or lead one or two portions in our Shabbat services.

Perhaps Abraham believed, as novelist Anatole France wrote, “To accomplish great things we must dream as well as act”.   Good Shabbos!