Parashat Lekh-Lekha

October 22, 2015 | Filed in: Bereshit, Divrei Torah, Uncategorized

Way of the Spiritual Seeker

Rabbi Len Levin

The Lord said to Abram, lekh lekha–go to/for/by yourself–from your land, from your birthplace, from your father’s household, to the place that I will show you. (Gen. 12:1) Philo of Alexandria in The Migration of Abraham (around 35 CE) offered the following interpretation: Each individual is called on to embark on a spiritual-mystical journey, leaving behind one’s bodily preoccupations and corporeal ancestral speech, and finding the spiritual center that transcends materiality, where one comes in contact with one’s higher self.

Rashi (around 1080) interpreted lekha “for your benefit.” Abraham is told that this will be the start of his flourishing and becoming the progenitor of mighty nations.

The Zohar (~1280) interpreted it as saying: Know and perfect your spiritual madrega (level of being).

Ephraim of Luntshitz (in the Keli Yekar, 1602) interpreted it as addressed to Abraham and saying: Set out to Jerusalem, the navel of the world, site of the creation of the world and origin of humanity, where earth and heaven meet at the site of the Temple, where you will encounter your true essential self.

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If Abraham the spiritual seeker walked into our congregations, would he feel at home? Jews are ethnic and comfortable. We are all about bagels and lox, falafel and hummous, in-jokes, snatches of Hebrew and Yiddish, and a warm sense of community. But spiritual seekers? Lone individuals in search of God and higher being?

Christian (especially Protestant) spirituality finds in the Bible a series of lone seekers, individuals with a “calling” or “vocation”–Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Hannah, Isaiah, Amos, and many more. They are there for the finding. In the ethnic reading of the Bible, they are called to serve in the birth and development of the chosen people of Israel, the collective group that is the main actor in the drama.

The Jewish people is in danger of becoming spiritually moribund unless it is enlivened by individuals who feel a sense of vocation and spiritual calling and are in search of a higher reality, to be a source of blessing to themselves individually and to the people around them.

Abraham and Sarah are regarded as the ancestral godparents of converts to Judaism on the basis of a verse in this week’s portion: “Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all their possessions, and the souls that they made in Haran, and they set out for the Land of Canaan.” (Gen. 12:5) Rashi interprets “the souls that they made in Haran–Abraham converted the men, and Sarah converted the women.” When a convert is called to the Torah, they are called by the name: “- son/daughter of Abraham and Sarah.”

There is an additional connection between Abraham and Sarah and the convert to Judaism-they were not born into the covenant, but chose to enter it of their free choice in a state of psychological and personal maturity.

We often refer to converts as “Jews by choice” to emphasize the positive aspect of choosing to take on Judaism as a spiritual quest. But this should awaken us to the fact that the born Jew can also be a “Jew by choice.” It requires a decision and an effort to reflect on the familiar, homey fact of one’s Jewishness and explore the radical opportunity that it presents. What does it mean to be born into the lineage of Abraham and Sarah, of Moses, Isaiah, Akiba, and Beruriah? A people promised to be a source of blessing to the nations of the world, that gave the Bible to the world and from which the great monotheistic (“Abrahamic”) faiths arose?

We have been Jews by habit for long enough. It is time for us all to wake up and hear God calling us to our true selves, to discover the unique spark within each of us that renders us unique as individuals, yet unlocks the potential to energize the connections that bind us to our loved ones, our families, our communities, the Jewish people, and everyone around us. By activating that spark and energizing those connections, we can each of us be a source of blessing.

It is time for all of us to hear God’s call lekh lekha and become “Jews by choice”-like Abraham, like Sarah.

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Rabbi Len Levin teaches philosophy at AJR and is the author of Why God Is Subject To Murphy’s Law.