One of the most profound portions greets us this Shabbat; Lech L’cha (Genesis 12f). So many commentaries have been written and will be written on this portion. Here is God’s call to Avram to “go forth to a place/land that I will show you”. A test? An ultimate test of faith for Avram is called to leave what he knows, his family, his environment, and to trust on faith this “call”. And he is not a young man. The portion discusses a series of travails and challenges and actually ends with a unique ritual that is followed by a name change. The letter hey is added to Avram and Sarai and they become Abraham and Sarah. Sarah gives her husband to Hagar so that they may have a child and there is a defining promise of God to Hagar and we end again with the rite of circumcision as Abraham is, according to the text, in his 90s.
So much to unpack, and there is a lot more. But we return to the beginning and the notion that, even in advanced age, Avram is called. I often teach this text as a symbolic permission on the part of the tradition to see in life the freedom to always move forward. So many Boomers are living this text. They engage themselves in new challenges and do not allow a number, their chronological age, to stop them from growing and evolving. Yet, others seem rooted, perhaps afraid to try new things or accept new challenges. What are we afraid of? The tradition sees Avram in this passage as a symbolic example of the ability to grow and trust one’s faith in an unknowable future. They key in the text, of course, is that this is a call from God and a test, as some say, of Avram’s faith in that God. There is a sense, one may argue, of surrendering to God’s call or God’s Will.It comes as no shock that if your rabbi stood up this Shabbat and called on the congregation to surrender to the Will of God, well, you can imagine the reaction. But is surrender such a bad thing if we try to understand it as acceptance? Do we come to a place that we accept our life, even our mortality, and once we accept, there is a sense of liberation. Maybe that is what this “go forth” is also telling us. Maybe it is a message that to really evolve and grow, we need to accept our life, our mortality and, once doing this, we free ourselves to really go inside our own self (another interpretation of the words of the portion) and seek our true potential.
As we enter the third stage of our life, look at this portion this Shabbat and try to play with the concept of surrender and acceptance. It is very personal. Yet, it is a challenge given to us by the text this week. It is an interesting challenge.
Rabbi Richard F. Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.