This Shabbat we read Parashat Lech Lecha, a portion well known for its lessons about journeys. Its juxtaposition to the elections provides hope that we need not be stuck where we do not want to be.
These times have brought great travail, disappointment, fear and a deep sense of insecurity about the coming years. We stand today as a nation divided, wondering about our collective future as Jews and as members in a range of other communities where we have grown roots.
Lecha Lecha beckons us to become sojourners for justice, joined together by a vision of what we might explore and build together. We take our first step without having firmed up all the details. We will figure them out along the way. Listening to and heeding the journey-call, step-by-step, we embark on a sojourn for justice.
In a poem about the parasha, Andrea Weiss writes (p.82):
“Go forth on a journey.
Go by yourself:
Standing at a crossroads
You venture from the known to the unknown.
Some journeys must be made alone.”
The language of journey – especially spiritual journey – has become more commonplace. Yet, when asked, most people are unclear about the path or the destination of their journey. Rabbi Shefa Gold suggests that a spiritual journey is about “the soul’s path to awakening” which, through a series of stages, leads to the maturation of the soul (Pp.30-33). For her, facing the challenge of each stage leads to a blessing for the sojourner. The following is another interpretation of these stages – one we might consider in light of where we find ourselves today – emotionally, spiritually, religiously, culturally, communally and as a nation.
Stage 1: Leaving – Abram leaves his home, his family and everything he has ever known in order to “become a blessing.” From the earliest moments of our lives, great attention is paid to the socialization process. Sometimes we have to leave what we have socialized into in order to re-claim the parts of our selves that have been lost.
Stage 2: Disappointment – Shortly after setting out on his journey, Abram is faced with a famine that will alter the course of Jewish history. It causes Abram to depart from the land and go down to Egypt, where the Israelites would eventually be enslaved for 400 years. Growth journeys are often unpredictable, and challenge us to go inward to discover things about ourselves we might not otherwise have known.
Stage 3: Development –Abram has to become a warrior in order to redeem his captive nephew, Lot. In responding to new situations, we can develop other parts of our selves and discover our ability to change, adapt and even flourish.
Stage 4: Initiation – After Abraham defeats the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah and rescues Lot, he receives a blessing from a foreign king, who links Abram to God by invoking El Elyon(the God Most High) through a blessing. Some moments in our lives open us to the possibility of receiving blessing from unexpected places.
Stage 5: Expansion – Abram looks to the stars to understand the breadth of God’s promise – that through Abram an entire nation will be born. When our vision becomes narrow and constricted, we, too, can restore hope by opening ourselves to the possibility of what might yet be.
Stage 6: Imagining for the future – Shortly after Abram’s question about what the future holds, Abram falls asleep and, through a vision, learns that the future holds both slavery and redemption for this nation. In our waking hours we may be too engaged in our journey to see or experience anything beyond the immediate moment. In a dream state where time and space have no meaning, the whole of the journey can be seen. Recalling the dream and its vision can help move us from one moment to the next with purpose.
Stage 7: Covenant – As part of the covenant, Abram is told that he will be “the father of a multitude of nations” (Gen 17:4). God marks the promise of Abram’s future by changing his name to Abraham. Abraham, to represent the change within himself, seals the covenant upon his flesh through the physical sign of circumcision. We don’t talk much about the covenant these days, most likely because it challenges us with a singular vision of who or what God is. Perhaps a 21st century approach to brit/covenant can allow us to bind and feel bound to a set of values, ethics and relationships that invite the Divine into our lives. It can be viewed as a very personal act of transformation that serves as a powerful communal connection – for males and females.
Lech Lecha begins with the call to Abraham and Sarah to embark on a journey. During the course of this journey, each evolves as a human being with a vision and a purpose. That which begins as a personal journey develops into a journey toward a collective future. As when Abram becomes Avraham Avinu (Abraham our father) and Sarai becomes Sarah imanu (Sarah, our mother), we are also now poised to become that future.
We are the living promise of Abraham and Sarah’s future – a future that need not stop here. Just like our ancestors, we have been given the “green light” to heed our journey-call, to walk our dreams and visions into reality, to sojourn for justice.
This Shabbat, prepare to set out knowing you will face disappointments along the way. Channel your inner warrior. Open yourself to receiving blessings from the least likely sources. Expand your vision and discover an ever broadening horizon. Imagine a nation which honors diverse ways of believing and belonging. And, in that sacred place, vow to create opportunities for all people to connect, engage and build a just society founded on kindness and respect.
For now, begin by looking inward and to one another for the courage to heed this journey-call. Celebrate and exercise the precious gift of freedom as an inspiration for reimagining a soul-driven, maximally inclusive nation. Prepare to take your first step into that future.
Nina J. Mizrahi, Community Rabbi