Parashat Lekh Lekha
By Simcha Raphael
I imagine it was a crystal clear desert night in Haran. Standing under a glittering band of stars adorning ancient Mesopotamian skies, Abram son of Terah suddenly heard a beckoning voice:
Abram! Go forth from your native land, from your birthplace, from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you… and in you shall all families of the earth be blessed. (Gen. 12:1-3)
In Parashat Lekh Lekha, Abraham is called by G!d to sojourn to Canaan and in so doing, becomes the progenitor of the Jewish people and ultimately, the Abrahamic religions. Here we encounter the classical calling of the hero (see Joseph Campbell, Hero with A Thousand Faces). Responding to a divine calling, an individual embarks upon a journey into the unknown, following their destiny and becoming an agent for world transformation.
Lekh Lekha invites each of us to pay attention to ways we may be summoned in our own lives, to express our unique destiny. Following G!d’s direction, Abraham journeys to an unfamiliar land, and with his belief in One G!d brings forth a new vision to the world. Through his visionary encounter at the burning bush, Moses was transformed from desert fugitive to rabble-rousing freedom fighter, leading his people from slavery to freedom. Similarly, amidst the clamor and haste of daily life, we are each called to listen deeply for the divine voice inside which can redirect our life in surprising ways and help us make our unique contribution to the world.
But today G!d does not seem to speak to people as a voice in the wilderness of Haran, nor from a burning bush, or smoking mountain top. Given that we are chronically bombarded with unending technological input, sensationalized 24/7 news coverage and a constant mass marketing of material commodities, what does it mean to sense our own calling? In an era of cultural malaise, economic angst and fears of eco-catastrophe, how can we learn to hear our own intuitions, and trust our inner voices? What can we learn from Abram and Sarai to help us honor the inner instincts inviting us towards the next steps on our life journey?
Interestingly, we find a clue to learning to hear our inner calling by rewinding the Torah to the closing verses of the previous parashah. In Gen. 12:30-32 we read:
Sarai was barren. And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldeans, to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran, and lived there. And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran.
Abram, Sarai and Lot are sitting in Haran, stuck between the past and the unknown future. Having left behind their familiar birthplace of Ur, they are not yet on the way to Canaan. Sarai is barren. Abram’s father Terah just died. Simply put, not much is happening in Haran. This is a time of grief, loss, emptiness, a period of waiting and uncertainty, not unlike our own era. We cannot go back to the past to the comfort of an earlier epoch; and the divine future destiny has not yet been revealed. On the cusp of the year 2012, perhaps we are all sitting in Haran. For better or worse we know that some of the old mores of American and global life are disappearing; change is immanent, but we know not the ensuing steps.
Yet in the very next verses of Torah, at the beginning of Parashat Lekh Lekha, Abram is summoned from within this place of emptiness and grief into the destiny of his life mission. Having sat in the emptiness of Haran, Abram is called to leave behind the known and familiar – your land, your birthplace, your father’s house – and move forward to discover an unknown, uncharted destiny. At seventy five years of age he picks up his tent spikes – Abram took Sarai, Lot, and all their possessions (Gen. 12:5) – and like a spelunker in a darkened cave, ventured into the unknown, sustained by an internal sense of trust and faith.
In our periods of loss, grief, depression and despair, or in the numbing sameness of complacency, familiarity and habit, do we notice the subtle stirrings, which call us into the next steps of our life journey? Do we notice meaningful coincidences of meeting people, new teachers, a book falling off the shelf, an invitation in the mail, or similar seemingly insignificant events that invite us to new regions of our lives? Or do we miss the callings of our soul because our inner voices are drowned out by social conditioning that says, “you cannot do that!”; “you need more money”; “you are too old”; “you have too many responsibilities, children, a mortgage”; “that’s not playing it safe”, etc.?
Our task is not to become Abraham, but to learn to hear our own destiny, our own calling as Abraham did, so we can bring our gifts of love and service into the world, into our communities and families. And as it was for Abraham, hearing our calling requires paying attention in moments of darkness, trusting the stirrings of the divine within, and above all the willingness to take a leap of faith and action into the unknown.
Simcha Raphael, Ph.D., a rabbinical student at the Academy for Jewish Religion, teaches in the Religion Department of Temple University, and is a Rabbinic Intern of the Jewish Hospice Network of Jewish and Family and Children’s Service, in Philadelphia, PA.