Minutes of Torah

As we leave last week’s parashat Noah, we are reminded that Noah’s name means ‘rest’ in Hebrew. This week in parashat Lech Lecha we are introduced to another Biblical character whose name is emblazoned on our religious memory: Abraham (or as he is known at the outset: Abram). And in sharp contrast to last week’s ‘rest’ motif, we are told at the outset that we are to move in the other direction: God’s first conversation with Abraham reveals that things will be ‘picking up.’

“God said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your native land, your birthplace, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’”

What a way to start a relationship. No small talk, like “How are you?” or even “Who are you?” Right to business.

And what was the business:  to go ‘somewhere.’ There is much instruction of what Abraham was to leave — “from your native land, your birthplace, your father’s house” — but virtually no indication as to where Abraham was to go. Only to a place that God “will show” him.  Given the amorphous nature of the assignment, the instruction to Abraham is nothing short of the ultimate test of having faith in God.

This still brings us back to the question as to why God does not identify where Abraham is to go? How should Abraham react — how would you react — if God says, “to go,” but holds off telling you where to go?

And yet this is not such a difficult challenge when we appreciate the similar one that we undertake. When we are invited onto a spiritual journey, we are given no indication where it will take us, let alone how long it will take. Indeed, one can posit that we are not supposed to even get there — wherever ‘there’ is. That it is the journey, and not the ending, that we look forward to.

God seems to have made the choice that it would be better for us to constantly seek God and constantly be on the journey, as compared to apprehending God’s essence. The wisdom in God’s choice is obvious: if we continue to search for God we will continue to grow ourselves. If, however, we ever achieve knowledge of God, the tendency would be to declare our quest at end and no longer pursue holiness. And no longer grow.

So, we must never conclude the spiritual journey, never cease to be seeking God. Rather, we are constantly reminded by the opening words of this week’s parashah, to “Go forth.”

God cannot be known, and certainly we cannot ever achieve such knowledge. But that does not prevent us from continuing to seek to learn about God. For only through our seeking to know God can we become enlightened by God’s Torah. Through our longing to understand God, we merit to hear and study God’s word.

It is God’s desire that in this world there be only longing, or only walking. Perhaps this is the reason God did not disclose the destination of Abraham’s initial journey for it is not in this world. To walk a spiritual path is not to seek a final knowable destination, but to savor the slow journey to that location.

You are still not sure? Think of all the valuable relationships in your life. Have any of them been the result of an overarching objective that you are able to define at the outset of the relationship? Or is the journey experience been the one that has driven the relationship? So, too, is it with your spiritual journey, and your beckoning relationship with God: “Go forth.”

Shabbat Shalom, Rav Juliu

Rav Julius Rabinowitz
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