Genesis 12 begins one of our great portions. It is filled with dramatic shifts in the narrative as the story fo the Jewish people begins with Abram’s “call” to “lech l’cha”, go forth. (Genesis 12:1). Commentaries have spent much time expounding on what these words mean. One of th e most famous is that of the famous commentator, RASHI, who suggests that this should be read “go to yourself”. Certainly that speaks to many of us for before we can go forward in life, we often need to go into our own self to gather the strength and faith to move forward in life; often, as Abram, to an unknown future.
The portion continues to speak of challenging issues such as Abram presenting to Pharoah his wife Sari as his sister. There is a strange ceremony of a covenant between God and Abram involving his walking through a path of animals that have been sacrificed and split. There is a promise by God of a fruitful and blessed future for Abram’s people. There is the heartfelt reality of the inability of Sari to conceive and her giving Abram Hagar and Hagar’s pregnancy and Sarai’s very normal reaction that sets the stage for future challenges within the family. Finally, there is the ritual of circumcision that is introduced and the adding of the letter “hey” to Abram and Sarai’s names so that, with that letter, a shorthand for God, they become Abraham and Sarah. SO much in a few chapters!
For this week, however, let me return to the beginning. Those first verses in chapter 12 which describe the “call” to Abram to go forth into his future, supported only by a faith in God and in himself. Abram receives this call and a promise from God and he then “journeyed by stages toward the Negev” (12:9) I think this vision of the journey of life in stages speaks to all of us. There is this very famous poem by Alvin Fine that is found in our liturgy that “Birth is a beginning and death a destination but life is a journey A going, a growing from stage to stage…” The poem recounts the stages of life that we endure and celebrate, from health to illness and back to health, from defeat to victory, etc., all the while hoping that each stage be informed by and acted out with a sense of holiness. This each stage a sacred one.
We, at our stage in life, can now look back a little and see those stages, those moments of transition and, at times, transformation, when we went forth into a future that we may not have known. Now, we are moving, all of us, into another stage of life. It holds out promise and opportunity for continued growth and creativity–if we so choose. Again, that choice is in our hands, to make this next life stage one of holiness or despair. Let us all “lech l’cha”, go forth in faith and in love and kindness so that our future will be one of the sacred.
Rabbi Richard F Address