The high drama of Genesis continues this week. Lech L’cha offers us a variety of texts to consider. We meet Hagar and the birth of Ishmael and the seeds of conflict between Sarai and Hagar (16). We have Avram going to Egypt, perhaps a foreshadowing of the future. We have the changing of names in which Avram become Abraham and Sarai becomes Sarah as a result of the Hebrew letter hey—short hand for God—becoming part of them and a covenant.
But all of this, I suggest, is secondary to the very beginning of this portion and the famous passage from 12: 1 “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land I will show you”. This verse has become part of the spiritual textual foundation that we teach at Jewish Sacred Aging. It is important for us, as we age, because this is a text that reminds us that no matter what the chronological age we may have, we are never to be afraid of going forth into the future.
This is not a passive journey. Rather, it is, I suggest, a powerful call from tradition to each of us that we are called to grow as human beings, as Jews, as spiritual beings. All of us move forward into a future every day and we do not know what our tomorrow will bring. This verse echoes the untaneh tokef from the Holidays in that it calls us to not fear the future, to not stand still, to be open to new possibilities and challenges—no matter what our age.
This takes faith. It takes faith in our self, and that is why one of the classic commentaries on this verse is to remind us that the Hebrew can be understood as saying, “go into yourself”. So many of us are trapped by fear as we age. This passage calls us to go forth, have faith, and to not fear to live. In a new book by Richard Leider and David Shapiro, and as they explained in a recent one of our SEEKERS OF MEANING podcasts: “Living the default life is living a life that’s ultimately inauthentic and impersonal; it’s living a life that isn’t really of our own choosing. It’s living a life that inevitably gives rise to questions like: Where did all the time go? How did my life pass so quickly? And Why did I squander my one precious opportunity for living?” (Who Do You Want To Be When You Grow Old? P.65). This portion is calling on us to not fear seeking and living our own authentic life as our authentic self.
This portion and this verse provide us with a foundation for personal and spiritual growth. It is part of who we are as a people, it is a call to grow and live: if we but have the courage to see every tomorrow as a possibility and a blessing.
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.