Parashat Hashavua November 4/5 2011
Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins
Emanuel Synagogue, Woollahra, NSW, Australia
Lech lecha – go, go for yourself, go into your self – the Hebrew can be understood in so many ways, but as we read this parasha and what unfolds from it, we know it is a story of transformation for an individual, for that person’s family, for a people and for the nations of the world. From Avram’s journey came Judaism, and eventually Christianity and Islam as well seeing themselves as part of the covenant of Avraham.
The story represents a shift in the previous action of the Torah. Adam and Eve, banished from Eden, symbolize the existential angst with which all humans live; with the knowledge of good and bad and the freedom to choose either at any time, we know we must live life forward with the question “where are you?” always echoing in our ears. We cannot go back to the naïve innocence of the Garden of Eden – all in front of us is unknown except our ultimate death.
Noah and his family, witnessing the destruction of life on earth outside their ark remind us of the peril of the floodwaters, the precarious nature of existence on this planet because of our injustice and ignorance. The world may not be destroyed by a flood any more, but we have created far more ways to extinguish life on this planet, including human life. Our failure to live up to the demands of respectful stewardship for life on this planet brings us ever closer to the doomsday hour.
Avram entered history in a precarious time for humanity. He took on and gave his followers the blessing of visionary journey. Has that journey come to its end, or do we have the ability to live it still? We can respond to that question by doing what Avram did: undertake a challenging spiritual journey and build community with like minded souls.
Go forth. Our sages teach that as the leaving is described in reverse physical order – country, birthplace and parents’ home, we know this is a spiritual as much as physical journey for our ancestor. The grammatical structure of the opening phrase includes a sense of urgency while highlighting the spiritual nature of the journey: go for yourself, or go more deeply into yourself. As step into the world, we need to know our internal self, that place where we are simply one with the universe and understand those issues of ultimate meaning to us.
While the journey begins alone, its effectiveness comes from sharing it with others. Along with Abram went his wife Sarai, their nephew Lot and 70 others. Eventually they would become us – the people of Israel, named after their grandson; eventually they would become the Christians and Muslims who as well connect their narrative to this story. The power of this story comes from its opening verses – while Abram must leave aspects of his old life behind, he has vision of a promised land. Our parallel journey at this time is as fraught and urgent as his, but as filled with promise too.
We have a vision of the land to which we are going, and it is global and it is green. We will always remain committed to our heritage – our Torah, our Hebrew language and our promised land of Israel. But our heritage is also to be a blessing for the nations and to help humanity not become uniform but unified. Our Torah promises a destiny where all will understand the God’s plan for diversity within the unity of Creation, which requires our duty of care for each other regardless of nationality, birthplace or family ties. Our journey is just as urgent now as was Abram’s then. Our vision is just as grand. We must be a blessing for all that lives on this planet, while we still can.