Friday, October 11, 2013

Lech Lecha

When we open parsha Lech Lecha Avraham is still Avram, he is living in  Ur Kaśdim.  He is called by God to leave every thing he knows and goes to a land  “asher arekha" that I will show you.  That is quite a thing.  Imagine if you will being called by an invisible God to leave all you know and not have a destination in place.  You will simply be shown.  

How often do we feel we can do that?  There is an ad running on TV that a travel website is picking people out, apparently just on the street, and giving them a trip anywhere in world if they left right now.  The ad doesn't fully define "right now" but I imagine there is time to pack.  How many of us could simply take that dream vacation if we had to leave at 8pm today.  (and by today I mean whenever you are reading this).  But at least there is a destination in mind.  At least there is a place to go with some idea of what it is like.  

Add to this notion that this God that called to Avram was not fully known in Avram's world.  The Midrash teaches us that Terah, Avram's father was an idol maker.  Ur was in the heart of modern day Iraq, Babylon, where idol worship was plentiful.  And here this God calling to Avram said, "Get out"  "Leave".  

It is weird.  The power of the story here is that Avram does it.  He listens and only later is promised to be the father of great nations, which comes true as the faiths that grow out of the story of Avram currently include half the world's population and are as diverse as snowflakes.  

But think about us, could we do it.  Rabbi Marc Gellman tells a story that the call was not to Avram first.  In fact three times God called to someone.  Using the Biblical names of Shelah, Peleg and Serug, God called to each and each wanted to bargain with God about what they would get out of it.  They were not interested in giving up their lives for a promise that was not clear.  It would be difficult and frankly I am not sure I would drop everything I know to go and see what would come.  But Avram teaches us that sometimes risks are what we must take for the greater good.  

We hear the call of something, it may not be God, but a call that asks us to change direction.  But so many things get in our way.  The Canadian band (and good Jewish boys) the Barenaked Ladies some up some of those things standing in our way with these lyrics:

We've got these chains that hang around our necks,
people want to strangle us with them before we take our first breath.
Afraid of change, afraid of staying the same,
when temptation calls, we just look away.

Being afraid of change is normal.  But it also means that we miss out on chances to be more than we currently are.  Avram took a big risk, and it wasn't easy.  There were demands, hurt, decisions.  He wasn't always right as we will see in the future sections of Torah, but he found a way to be part of something bigger than himself.  Challenged by God, he accepted.

In small ways we too can do that.  I was thinking of inspirational friends today.  One, an author, decided to travel the world on her own.  She decided that the world was something to experience and not be frightened by, even as a woman traveling alone.  Every day is an opportunity for wonder and she finds it and shares it in her writing.  That writing inspires so many others and shows us what is out there waiting.

But it doesn't have to be so dramatic.  Sometimes leaving home to escape the narrative of who people think you are is a hard step but one that can help make you fully discover yourself.  The noise of a small town, where you play your role, can be stifling when you no longer fit the role you grew up in.  While you may still love home, day-to-day finding being someone different can be liberating and healthy.  For Avram, leaving home meant leaving behind the idol worship of his parents and culture.  It must have been difficult, but in the end he grew into a great man.

Lech lecha, can also be about our own internal growth.  Letting go of those things that keep us tied down.  I read today about forgiving someone even if they don't ask you to.  Carrying around the pain they caused blocks blessings it says.  Leaving behind, Going forth from a place of hurt to a place of freedom is a risk as well.  But doing so frees up space for more love and kindness to enter.

But it could be any chances we pass up out of unwarranted fear.  Not talking to someone who is different from you.  (I was privileged to hear Alicia Ostriker the other night who said God gave us imagination so that we can understand the people who are not us), not going to that job interview because we know they won't like us, not asking that girl or boy out because we feel he or she is out of our league.  Every moment of every day could be a Lech Lecha moment.  If only we embrace the road to the land that is still unseen, until then we will never know. 

Too often, we reduce Avram's story to one of "the first monotheist" or the father of nations.  But you know what he most teaches us?  To take risks.  To move away from what people think we should be, to what we feel we are.  That may mean challenging a whole lot of things in our current lives.  It may be difficult and the reward may not be becoming the parent of great nations, but if it makes you a better person, if it makes you more able to connect with who your really are, and thus treat all your encounters with honesty and wonder.  Then you do not just create nations, you create new universes, because to paraphrase Anias Nin, each positive encounter between people births a new universe.  And that is worth any risk you can take.  

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