November 10, 2005
Go Forth, Find You
Parshat Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1 - 17:27)
"The longest journey is the journey inwards. Of him who has chosen his destiny...." -- Dag Hammarskjold, "Markings" (1964)
I recently saw the film, "In Her Shoes," and was inspired by the personal transformation of the sister played by Cameron Diaz.
This character had the courage to break old habits, leave her past and re-create herself in a new environment.
"Lech Lecha" -- go forth, for yourself -- is the command given to Abraham in this week's Torah portion. "Go forth," God tells Abraham and Sarah, from all that you know and all that is familiar, "to the land that I will show you."
God is telling Abraham to resettle in another country. But this move is more than just about geography. It is a spiritual quest of discovering one's self and one's destiny. Like the movie, "In Her Shoes," Lech Lecha is about starting a new chapter and confronting the very assumptions by which we live.
I will be officiating at my nephew's wedding this week, and the poignant message of Lech Lecha can be instructive for the newlyweds.
Marriage is a Lech Lecha. It requires leaving your single identity and entering an unknown place as a couple. Getting married is about having the faith to go forth on a personal journey together. Abraham and Sarah's going forth challenges us to grow, be spiritually aware and revitalize our beliefs.
The medieval commentator Rashi says that the command for Abraham to go forth is for "his own benefit and his own good." Abraham has to go forth to find himself, meet his potential and fulfill his unique destiny.
Two people about to be married are doing the same.
In the Torah portion, Abraham wanders from place to place until he knows where it is that he and Sarah are to settle. In contrast to going on a trip were you have a destination and know when you will be returning home, wandering is disquieting and undefined. Our personal Lech Lecha follows the same course.
In "Genesis: The Beginning of Desire" (JPS, 1995) Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg discusses this challenge of aimless wandering and uses the analogy of a shepherd and his sheep.
She said that just as the shepherd would not let the sheep get lost, Abraham trusted God would help him find his destination.
The Psalms states, "I have strayed like a lost sheep; God, search for Your servant" (119:176).
Zornberg calls this a state of "imperiled contingency." Abraham's journey is "trackless and unmapped," she writes, but "his cry evokes the ultimate responsibility of the absent Shepherd to choreograph a meeting with His lost sheep."
Abraham is able to go on his journey because he knows innately that he is in a relationship with God and will not be abandoned. He can go forth because he is going home. Even during his time of many trials, he knows that God will search for him. Zornberg's teaching also relates to marriage.
When two people find one another in a beshert relationship, it is a marriage that is meant to be. They find their destination and create a home there.
Lech Lecha is not the first story of a journey in the Bible -- Adam and Eve are expelled from Eden, and Cain wanders around the world. In fact, almost four-fifths of the Bible is the journey through the Sinai wilderness.
In an essay on another Torah portion, Rabbi Simon Jacobson asks about the mystery behind a Lech Lecha journey. He explains that the journey always represents the power to grow and the capacity to get out and explore other possibilities. He adds that a journey is a form of hope, and asserts, "that when we are in the dumps, or just living a life of plain mediocrity and silent desperation, we know that we always have the freedom and ability to aspire and reach broader horizons."
Our journeys, we know, are not always peaceful ones, Jacobson reminds us, but every journey can be an opportunity for true change and perfecting the very fiber of our souls.
As the newlyweds stand under the chupah, these are the thoughts I will share:
"Lech Lecha -- go forth from your single state of awareness, and find your new selves in your marriage. Go forth in your wanderings and on your journey with hope. Meet your challenges, knowing that you will be there for one another, and will search for ways of loving and forgiving and will find joy and friendship that will last a lifetime.
"May you go forth with God, like Abraham and Sarah, finding more of yourselves in each other. May you always be a blessing. Lech Lecha."
Toba August, rabbi of Adat Shalom in West Los Angeles, can be reached at email@example.com.