This is a D’var Torah (a sermon) I wrote and delivered at my synagogue last week. I love this particular passage of the Torah which we all can relate to. Avraham leaves his place of birth to go on a spiritual journey to discover himself and his true calling. It’s directed to a Jewish audience but the message is universal. Enjoy it!
In the beginning of Parsha Lech Lecha “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…”
This is an invitation to a journey, to a pilgramage. Avraham is invited by Hashem to leave behind all that is considered important in society – the security of his father’s home, money, fame – to begin this pilgramage to himself. There is no address, only a call. The Creator asks Avraham to go to the Land that He will show to him in the future. There is a path but this path is not the means to get to the Promised Land. To go through this path, to get started on this journey to himself – Lech Lecha – that’s the main goal. Hashem tells Avraham: Go to yourself until the land that I will show you.
And why did Avraham go? Why did he heed Hashem’s call?
Avraham was on a quest; a spiritual quest. He needed to find himself and his values and the way to do that is to become vulnerable and interact with others. Only then one can understand what are the values that he will atrribute to himself and to his life.
Isn’t that why we travel as well? Isn’t that why we leave the familiar conditions of our homeland and go forth to experience the new?
These questions are not so clear when we leave, are they? Maybe Avraham didn’t know that he was on a spiritual quest. He was answering a call and off he went. Usually we don’t begin a journey with all these questions written down as if we can use them as a spiritual map. We might have a hint of what’s ahead but we don’t know for sure. To make this transition a bit easier and to make us feel less uncertain we bring our baggage with us.
Leaving is not so easy and there is anxiety around it. We try to ease the pain by bringing things that are familiar to us; things that can help us transition from the old to the new… and what we take, reveals a lot about how we deal with risks and with life itself. I wonder what Avraham took with him on his journey – perhaps a small idol that reminded him of his home and contradicted his mission but that simbolized his love to the land of his childhood.
Some of the things we take with us when we leave on a journey may contradict our mission, but they represent the uncertainty of leaving. We cannot take the uncertainty out of the new adventure we are about to begin. To do that would be removing the espiritual element that is involved in being vulnerable and open to new ideas, values and experiences whenever we heed the call and embark on a new journey in search for ourselves and our truth.
Our bagagge represents our only power in strange lands. However, life teaches us that security is not to be found in things or in objects, but in the interaction with others.
This interaction is also know as service. There are many levels of service, but without it there is no journey, there is no life. This is the greatest virtue Avraham will learn and cultivate on his path. He becomes the master of service and next week’s parsha tells us how Avraham ignored the disconfort of the circuncision that he just underwent to attend to the unexpected guests that came to his tent.
With such disposition for service, Avraham became the perfect conduit for the Divine Will. He personified the attitude of surrender that a pilgrim must have once out on a journey.
In the previous parashot we see Adam hiding from G-d once He asked: Where are you?; we saw Noah obeying blindly without the interaction that G-d invites us to have with Him and with our fellow humans. On this week’s parsha when G-d goes to Avraham, his answer is I am here ready to serve and he jumps into action. These are three different responses and they symbolize three different levels of commitment and development. We all go through these three levels during the journey of our lives. We are called to serve but how many of us answer?
We learn through Avraham that to become a true pilgrim, you need to answer the call to serve others. At different times in our lives we are called to be the host who serves or the pilgrim who takes. This exchange is the espiritual perspective of the pilgrim. He counts on the benevolence of the host. And here we see the greatest secret of abundance – the exchange between the one who serves and the one who is being served. The host has the external prosperity, the means by which one can serve others; money, food, time, etc. The pilgrim has the internal prosperity, the light that accompanies the ones that are on a journey; the enthusiasm, the hope.
We’ve all experienced that when we have people over in our homes. When they leave we get the feeling that they gave us more than we gave them! We feel the same when we help others. The internal prosperity of the pilgrim and the external prosperity of the host are a perfect exchange. When we serve others we experience that in its highest form. Some of these exchanges become so profound that we may even see people we interact with as angels such is the feeling of bliss that we are left with after we meet them!
Avraham can only be a true host and serve like no other because he also is a true pilgrim. He knows that the exchange is precious and the one that is serving others has the greatest opportunity to collect riches that are priceless: the spritual assets that are eternal. Once we give, once we serve, we get the spiritual assets back, the internal prosperity that lasts.
Avraham alternates his behavior as the pilgrim and the host and does to others what he needs others to do to him. He perceives in himself a prosperity that changes external and internal values and that allows for him to see others as angels that always have something to give and to teach him.
In our own journey through life, we also know people that behave as angels and with whom we exchange internal and external prosperity. We can only find these angels if we get out on a journey. They are only visible when we become vulnerable, when we trust others, when we exchange our talents. They are not visible when we are stuck in the familiar, the status quo and the “no-growth zone”. We can only see them when we go off on a journey to ourselves.
At the end of the Parsha, Hashem changes Avram’s name to Avraham together with the promise that he will be the father of a multitude of nations. It’s the end of one journey and the beginning of another. The pilgramage is not over; it never is.