Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 38

Stepping Into the Unknown

October 29, 2020

Dear Holy Friends,

As always, I hope this correspondence finds you doing well, in good health, and in good cheer. Although we pray to be back together in person soon, we will continue to be there for you virtually with our regular services and new programs. Hopefully, you will join us for them.

This week’s Torah portion is entitled Lech Lecha and it begins the narrative of our ancestral heritage through Avraham, our forefather. As I will speak about this upcoming Shabbat morning, this portion, is, I believe, a meta-narrative of spiritual quest and existential liberty.

Avram is told:

לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ׃:

The LORD said to Avram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”

The challenge to Avram is amazing. Leave everything you know and all your surroundings with the promise that there is something better in the future, of which, I will not specify.

Yes, it is true that the Midrash, somewhat apologetically, suggests that Avram’s father (Terach) was an idol worshipper and, as such, Avram had no choice but to leave his home environment in order to fulfill his spiritual destiny.

Nonetheless, can you imagine leaving your country, your birthplace and your family’s home to go somewhere unknown? What strength would that truly take?

As amazing as Avram’s journey was, I would like to suggest that the only reason these Torah stories resonate across the millennia is because they are archetypal or prototypical examples of what life’s journey represents.

Let me offer illustrations of two people, who I personally knew, who mirrored and maybe even succeeded Avram’s Mesopotamian challenge.

My grandmother, Freida Henya, left the town of Mulch in the province of Grodna, in White Russia, in the year 1924. She boarded a ship for a six-month journey across turbulent seas to escape religious oppression in Poland and Russia. She came to North America (not knowing a word of English and without a penny in her pocket) to forge a new Jewish future. Her husband was a Melamed (a yeshiva teacher), who never mastered more than a basic English. Nonetheless, they imagined and created a new destiny. She would say that despite the trauma of leaving everything she knew, she never gave up faith that God would protect her.

My grandmother and grandfather raised nine children and embraced the promise of the Goldene Medina (the land of America, paved with gold), a country with unimagined religious freedoms.

In Chicago, I met a gentleman named Abbadu, who became a dear friend of mine. He was a Jewish immigrant from Ethiopia with a 10-year-old daughter. When I met Abbadu, he was homeless. Abbadu shared with me the saga of his year-long journey trekking barefoot across some desert that I had never heard of, simply to acquire refugee status so that he could try to make his way to America. Due to both the civil unrest and the rampant anti-Semitism in that part of the world, he suffered during his travels. He showed me the scars on his arms from torture he endured during his journey. He told that despite the trauma, he never gave up faith that God would protect him. With the help of our congregation and Jewish community, he finally found a job in the Midwest and is living today as an actively involved Jew.

I happen to believe that the message of Lech Lecha is that we are all engaged in an ongoing journey from the known to the unknown, from the comfortable to the challenging and from disequilibrium to fulfillment. I know you have these personal stories too, and I would love for you to share them with me.

We, as a community, are traveling together to navigate the present uncertainty. We can, and will, move from darkness to light, from despair to rejoicing, and from tension to tranquility, hopefully very soon.

Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD
201 562 5277

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