By: Rabbi Joan Glazer Farber, is Co-director of Hevreh: A Community of Adult Jewish Learners
A Journey of a Lifetime
In my family, it has been a time of journeys and transitions. Our daughter and son-in-law became parents and then moved back to New York. Our son had been touring with a theatrical group and moved back home when the tour ended. Our other daughter spent the summer working at a Union for Reform Judaism camp, came home briefly, before leaving for a semester in Prague, studying Jewish history. Each of these journeys involved complicated plans, many suitcases and even more boxes. Then of course, there was the emotional baggage, sadness for leaving behind cherished communities and friends, relief for the needed break, excitement and anxiety of the unknown which lay ahead.
Journeys are nothing new to the Jewish people, for aren’t we referred to as ‘wandering Jews.’ In fact the first journey found in the Torah is the focal point of our parashah, Lech L’Cha, though the journey began at the conclusion of last week’s parashah.
Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans for the land of Canaan, but when they came as far as Haran, they settled there…..and Terah died in Haran.
This initial stage of the journey follows Terah’s wishes and plans. Terah determined when it was time to leave Ur and to journey toward Canaan, but he stopped along the way, never to continue. The focus of the journey does not shift to Abram until after the death of his father, Terah. Why did God wait to talk to Abram? Rashi interpreted the delay as an indication that Abram did not honor his father or his father’s traditions. But what had Abram done to show his father disrespect? According to Midrash Rabbah 38:1, Terah was a idol maker and had left a young Abram in charge of the idol shop. While Terah was gone, Abram had destroyed all of the idols except the largest one. When his father returned and asked what had happened, Abram placed the blame on the idol. Terah replied that clay idols don’t move and Abram shot back “why do you worship them?” In this midrash, Abram demonstrates his disdain for idol worship and his disrespect for his father. Yet Abram is still emotionally attached to his father and committed to the family. He cannot continue the journey until after his father’s death because of love and devotion.
א וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-אַבְרָם, לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ.
Adonai said to Abram, “go forth from your native land, from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. (Genesis 12:1)
God’s command to Abram is filled with meaning. לֶךְ-לְךָ Lech L’cha—translated here as “go forth”, literally means “take yourself.” A Midrash interprets this to mean, “Go forth to find your authentic self, to learn who you are meant to be.” (Mei HaShiloah, cited in Etz Hayim, page 70) Abram may have physically begun the journey back in Ur under the direction of his father, but this is about something more than changing cities. It is about spiritual and emotional growth and ultimately it will lead to new responsibilities.
וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ Me’artzcha ume’moladitcha, from your native land. Leaving cities and countries of our births doesn’t seem too traumatic today. Many of us have lived in several different cities and countries based on our professional and family choices. But for Abram, leaving behind his native land meant separating from the world that he knew. He didn’t have Skype and email to stay in touch with his friends and extended family. His connections to the world of Ur and Haran were the people who were traveling with him, Sarai and Lot. Together, they would share memories of the places and people they were leaving behind.
וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ Ume’beit avicha, and from your father’s house. This is the more difficult aspect of God’s command, because even if Abram had distanced himself from his father’s religious practices, Terah was still his father, the source of his life and his guide through childhood and early adulthood. It is never easy to leave one’s parents behind, in life or in death. The umbilical cord is emotionally still attached. Abram had to determine that his was emotionally ready to move on.
Now Abram must determine his own path as he follows God’s command. He will have to decide what kind of adult he will be, what his religious practice will become and how he will relate to others. This time of transition will not be easy and the journey to Canaan will provide other challenges, but Abram also has God’s blessing and promise that his name will be made great and that his life will be filled with goodness and blessing.
Journeys bring change and challenges. Abram followed God’s command and found blessing. May all of our journeys bring us closer to those we love and bring us blessings too.