October 30, 2020
The opening words of this week’s Torah portion, Lech-Lecha (Genesis 12:1- 17:27); God appears to Abraham and says: leave your land, your birthplace, your parents’ home, and follow me to a land that I will show you. And Abraham goes? With no idea of where or why he is going, Abraham hears God’s call and he goes?
The question that always intrigues me when I read this verse is: Would I have done what he did? Would you? Abraham was no youngster when he received the call. The Torah says he was seventy-five years old. He was settled in his ways. He probably owned some real estate. He was at an age when most people are cautious and careful with their investments. And yet he gets a call – and he goes? Just like that? Wasn’t that a foolhardy thing to do? It sure was. And yet, what would have happened if Abraham had not gone? What if he had decided to stay where he was and live out his years on social security instead of going off to a new land, with no idea of what awaited him there?
He would have lived out his years in Ur of the Chaldees, and been forgotten. There would have been no Jewish people, no Christianity, and no Islam. The whole history of the world would have been totally different if Abraham had played it safe and not gone on that fateful journey. We are here today because when the call came, he chose to answer it and to go.
The reason I ask this question is because I believe that many times in our lives, each one of us is faced with the same choice that Abraham faced. Many times in our lives we stand at a crossroads and ask ourselves: should we or shouldn’t we? Should we play it safe or should we risk? I guess it was a little bit easier for Abraham than it is for us in that he heard God calling him, but, even for him, the decision was surely not easy, and it surely is not easy for us. But choose we sometimes must. We cannot stand at the crossroads forever. Not to decide is to decide. And so each of us hungers for some guidance, some sign, some wisdom that will help us choose. We know that risk can sometimes be foolhardy. We know that caution can sometimes be crippling. So how do we know which to choose? How do we know when to do what Abraham did and decide to go into an unknown future, and how do we know when to play it safe? How do we know when to fold our cards and how do we know when to raise the stakes?
No one can answer this question for anyone else. But I would like to offer you this suggestion for your consideration. Since life is inherently unknowable, since decisions are always a risk, since no one can ever be sure whether it is good to gamble and go forward or to stand put, I would suggest to you that whenever a huge decision looms before you, your best bet is likely to be made from the side of courage rather than from the side of fear.
The point I am trying to make is that life is inherently unknowable. The future is never clear. Therefore, if we are going to live in this world, we have to be willing, at least some times, to take a chance, to go forward without knowing for sure what the consequences of our actions will turn out to be. Sometimes you have to leave the city of your childhood, and go forward into the wilderness of your intuition. You cannot get there by bus, only hard work, by risking, and by not quite knowing what you are doing or where you are going until you get there. Sometimes, when you do that, you discover something that will be wonderful waiting for you at the end of the journey, namely yourself.
Perhaps that is why the Hebrew of the opening words of this portion are not just lech, but lech lecha. God does not say: go. God says: Go for your own sake, or: go into yourself, because when you risk, when you make a commitment without waiting for guarantees, you discover yourself. You discover who you really are, and what you really stand for, and what you value the most. Every journey begins with an act of faith. Abraham’s journey changed his life, and transformed the world. And so I would ask you to learn from his example. May we have the courage that it takes to make journeys into the unknown, as he did. And if we do, may our journeys be the beginning of many blessings, as his was.
(Special thanks to Rabbi Jack Riemer whose sermon inspired these words)