October 18, 2007
Setting out to look within
Parshat Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1-17:27)
A 40-year-old British man named Jason Lewis recently completed a circumnavigation of the globe using only human power. He journeyed more than 46,000 miles around the world using a bicycle, pedal boat, kayak, rollerblades and his own two feet. He kayaked or pedaled across oceans and lakes, hiked over mountains and through jungles, and skated the breadth of the United States. In July, he ended his journey in Greenwich, where he started 13 years earlier.
That's right -- 13 years.
And the purpose? In the words of his friend Steve Smith, with whom he started the journey (the friend dropped out five years in), to ensure that the "prime of our lives does not turn out to be less than it should."
Recounting the motivation that inspired the journey, Smith wrote, "What I see, day after day, are captured lives, half-lives, dedicated to a mirage of fullness that never comes.... My greatest fear is of mediocrity and of a slow, unremarkable acquiescence to society over time."
Lewis' story reminds me of the journey that begins this week in Lech Lecha. Like the Lewis journey, our first parents, the legendary founders of monotheism and the Jewish people, Avram and Sarai, leave their home, their familiar surroundings, all that they know to be true and head off into the great wilderness. They follow a call from an unknown God, a new spirit of unity and hope that would become the foundation of our existence, radically changing the way human beings relate to the divine and to each other; the calling of a lifetime begins in this parsha.
We live in a world today dominated by the drive to achieve more, gain more, conquer more, be it wealth, land, power or just stuff we are convinced we need. We seldom live fully in the moment, seek a connection with ourselves or discover what is transpiring, transforming within our own hearts and souls.
Shabbat is meant to be this time, which is why Abraham Joshua Heschel called it a "palace in time." This is the one day of the week where we are gifted by our newfound Creator, as we read in the second chapter of Genesis, to rest and restore our sense of balance and equilibrium, which often can get knocked off kilter by the pace of our harried existence.
The journey each week on Shabbat is the personal journey of lech lecha, going inside ourselves -- through prayer, song, community, study and rest -- to ask the questions of substance, the questions that end up plaguing too many of us on our deathbeds: "Am I satisfied with my life? Am I living fully and with awareness? Do I spend enough time with my family, with my friends, pursuing moments that bring me inner joy and wholeness? Have I achieved a goal, reached a new height, a new depth in the realm of spirit, personal awareness or satisfaction?"
We have the chance, each and every week, to take the journey of Abraham, listen for the call of God and then find ways to answer that call.
The Mei Shiloach, a masterful Chasidic commentator, understood the call of lech lecha as "finding your authentic self, to learn who you are meant to be."
This life is not about how much money we earn, how many cars we own, how many vacation homes, yachts or private jets we can play in. No, this life is about how many moments we spend laughing, crying, singing, pondering and kissing; how many moments we spend learning to play an instrument, sculpting, hiking, biking, gardening, knitting; how many moments we spend in silent meditation, in a deep yoga pose or chanting to cleanse our hearts.
We must do what is necessary to live, feed our families and provide shelter, but the notion that this work is the essence of our life, the sole purpose for living, is a poison that too many of us have swallowed.
Lech lecha reminds us of what is truly important in this life. We might not circle the globe, but we can circle our deeper selves. And this might be the most rewarding journey we ever take.
As we begin this new year, as each moment passes in our lives, may we be inspired by Abraham and Sarah, people of courage and inner wisdom, people who were able to hear the call of a new life, a challenge to the status quo of their day, and embrace a belief that things need not be what they seem to be. May we all journey forth into greater unknowns, forging ahead into the depths of our being, into the fear of our greatest hope coming true, and may we find God, peace, compassion and wisdom of days. And may we each receive, accept and spread the greatest gift of Abraham: to be a blessing.
Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater is the spiritual leader of the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center. To learn more about his own journey, or to contact him, please visit www.pjtc.net.