|This week’s Torah portion is Lech Lecha. All of a sudden, with no introduction or prologue or Producer’s Notes, poof! Here’s Abram (not Abraham yet – same guy, different name), and God’s telling him to pick up and go. Leave everything that you’ve ever known and trust Me, God says. I won’t tell you where you’re going until you get there. So you’re walking blindfolded into the future. But if you listen to Me, the reward will be nothing short of revolutionary. Abram, without pause or question or ambivalence, obeys. “Abram went forth as the Holy One had commanded him.” Gen 12:4. Just like that.
I’ve often wondered the extent to which Abram is either out of his mind or deeply pious or a visionary or a mix of all three traits and maybe more. How could he so resolutely step into the great wide open?
Oh, I know. If almost anyone got a direct message from God it would be hard to say no. Still and all, there’s no side bar, no analysis of the offer; that’s striking. I want Abram to get out a piece of papyrus and a pen and do a pros/cons comparison chart. I want him to ask at least a few questions. I want him to be at least vaguely curious about his final destination. But Abram hears God and obeys. He “just went forth as the Holy One had commanded him”.
In the end, it just may be that Abram’s determination to move forward is pragmatic. What else is he supposed to do? Why not dare to do something? It’s not as if you get to live a longer or better life by standing still. In fact, health experts insist that standing still is bad for our health. This means that there’s some physiological imperative that wants to drive us forward. So why not listen to that body truth?
I’ve been hearing the lech lecha imperative in my head since election day. So here we are. Nothing happens in the past. The action is in the next step. We’re moving on.
God’s promise to Abram is loud and clear. If you go, if you trust in me and follow my lead, you will become a great nation that will teach the world what it means to be faithful. You will teach the world what it means to be just and compassionate. You will take all the curses and abuse heaped upon you and you will not become embittered and vengeful. You will not resort to nihilistic acts of wanton savagery and terror. You will not use the name of God to justify killing children. You will feel the pain of hatred and antisemitism and you will take that pain and it will inspire you to empathize with others who feel the lash of hate speech and prejudice and violence and death. You will stand with those who, like you, have been oppressed and beaten and humiliated.
This is our imperative. And it hasn’t changed. We keep following Abram’s lead. We keep stepping into tomorrow, not knowing what we’ll face. All we can know is that we go forth with confidence in who we are and what we’re willing to do for others who need us. We bring with us our tools: a belief in justice and equality, courage to do the right thing, and a clear notion that what matters in the end of the day, no matter where we end up, is to be a mensch.
So if and when someone asks you, “What’s going to happen now in this major transitional period in American life?”, you can tell them that, from a Jewish point of view, we follow Abram. It worked for him.
Lech lecha! And Shabbat Shalom