Change is constant. Any study of Jewish history will confirm that. Change at our age may be a greater challenge. The consequences of change may be greater as we get older than when we were younger. After all, time and mortality are ever present. It is very comfortable to stay “where we are”, emotionally, physically, spiritually. Yet, in this week’s portion, we again see a theme that is often ignored in our modern world. That message is that Judaism reminds us that we never stop growing and always have the capacity and the invitation from our past, to go forward; to learn, to grow, to love to embrace the new.
Lech L’cha is one of the most powerful portions. It has several interesting issues contained within its’ chapters. We find the wife-sister motif in Genesis 13, the beginnings of the wanderings of the ancient Hebrews and the introduction of the theme of infertility (16) which will emerge several times in our sacred texts. But the opening lines of this portion strike home. Avram is called to “go forth to a land that I will show you”. A classic comment, as so many have written, reminds us that the Hebrew can be understood as a call to go into oneself. (l’cha) This is a “call” in many ways from God in Genesis 12. But we can also ask if this “call” is coming from deep within our own psyche. One can ask then, what is “calling us” as we get older? Is it our true self? A self that has been repressed to conform to what we perceived to be, or were taught were, acceptable social norms? Do we have the courage, strength, willingness to answer that call? Is every day, as we say the modeh ani blessing an invitation to start anew?
In her comment on Genesis, Aviva Zornberg writes that “The promise/demand of God is “I will make you a great nation”, which Tanchuma translates, “I shall create you anew”. In this reading of lech lecha is an urging to self-transformation: at base, that is the meaning of a change of name, or a change in place”. (p.78) Consider this idea of self-transformation. Are we ever too old to consider this idea? Indeed, age is meaningless, for we know elders who embrace this concept and younger people who seem afraid to move forward. Consider this idea in ritual terms. We teach the ritual of the simchat chochmah as a means of expressing gratitude for life, for the acquisition of wisdom and for the ability to continue to grow as a human being. So, this Shabbat, as you contemplate this passage, consider the words of the portion as an invitation to never fear to move forward in life, to dream, to learn, to have the courage and faith, as did Avram, to go forward into our own tomorrow. We never know what that tomorrow will bring!
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.