This Shabbat (Sabbath), many in the Jewish community are reflecting upon the rabbinic teachings connected to the weekly biblical reading of “Lech Lecha” (Genesis 12:1-17:27 ; Isaiah 40:21-41:16). The following is a reflection rooted in these. For more about the sources, please go to www.chabad.org.
Out of nowhere comes “The Call” to Abram to go (“lech lecha”) from “his land, from his birthplace, from his father’s house, to the land that G!d will show him”. Traditional rabbinic commentary teaches that these seemingly repetitive words teach us something profound about the process by which we can evolve into a place where we can become truly ourselves.
The Hebrew words “lech lecha” literally can be translated “go for yourself” or “go to yourself”. And indeed, this is the larger existential question… who am I? who was I created to be? The commandment comes to Abram to leave his land, his birthplace and his father’s house… and the rabbis explain that this order instructs us on the steps one must take in order to journey toward blessing.
We must leave one’s land… we are called to leave all the security that comes with being connected to one’s land… the experience of wandering, of being disconnected from one’s physical and geographic roots is jarring… and yet, this biblical text suggests that this traumatic experience is an important layer that one must peel within one’s self, in order to see more clearly, to begin to learn lessons of compassion and trust… this is the same lesson of trust that the Children of Israel were forced to learn in the desert, escaping ancient Egyptian slavery and subsisting on manna… unable to collect more than one day’s worth of manna at a time, forced to live in the moment and trust that the next moment will reveal itself in its own time…
The act of leaving one’s land can be profoundly instructive and is an important step in the spiritual quest. We can leave it literally or metaphorically, to learn to deconstruct the identities that we inherited… the nationalities and sources of patriotism that teach us to build walls and to want to protect what we have… the spiritual quest is to recognize the ways in which ownership and identity are really just illusions of this world that blind us to the ways G!d seeks to Call to us.
The next command to Abram is to leave his birthplace… which the rabbis teach is more than simply the physical location where he was born, but speaks to all of the early beliefs and wounds and narratives that shaped him… these served a purpose to make him who he was, but Abram was created to eventually become Abraham, the father of many peoples, the blessing upon which faith was born… and to become Abraham, he needed to let go of his belief that he was just Abram. The “ha” inside of his name was given to him later, after he completed the painful but necessary journey of deconstructing himself and leaving all that he knew.
How do we leave our birthplace? How do we leave behind everything we were told to believe? What will it take to help us let go of all of those early experiences that etched themselves into our unconsciousness and continue to implore us to react, to respond to present stimuli as if they were from the past… Our birthplace, our childhood, our father’s house, our family dynamics, the roles that we played when we were children, the scripts that we were taught that we continue to enact… all of these beliefs and defense mechanisms had their place, but they have ceased to serve their initial purpose, and they now are quick sand… they keep us trapped in the past.
Lech Lecha- go to yourself and go for yourself. Leave what you know and leave what you have been. Leave all that shaped you. Release it and let it go. Each of us is being called to move forward into the unknown future… our Call is unknown to us and it is terrifying to leave the security of all that we have known to move forward into the unknown… and yet, it is for this that each of us have been created. We, no less than Abram, we have been created to journey forward in a never-ending quest to become… to be…
Let us take this week to reflect upon those possessions and beliefs which may be comfortable but may no longer serve us… in what ways are we chained to the past? What would we become if we dared to venture forward into the unknown? Who would we become? What would we hear if the past and the possessions and the beliefs and fears that currently deafen us were to suddenly cease… how can we create the silence to listen and hear G!d’s Call to each of us?
Originally from Montreal, Canada, I studied in Jerusalem at several Orthodox yeshivas, prior to beginning my studies as a Reform rabbi at Hebrew Union College. I am a second generation Holocaust survivor, and early on, wanted to do whatever I could to build a world where hatred and prejudice would never again have the upper hand.
For me, studying Judaism from traditional perspectives was crucial because “it was important to understand what we are reforming”. I believe in making educated choices from the rich set of resources provided by Jewish tradition, in order to ensure that every ritual and prayer is meaningful. I was a founding board member of the Society of Classical Reform Judaism (now Roots of Reform), due to my unwavering commitment to advocacy for interfaith families and the creation of inclusive Jewish communities that are unconditionally welcoming of all spiritual seekers, regardless of their religious background, relationship status, identity or Hebrew speaking ability.
In addition to nearly two decades working in synagogues, teaching, counseling and participating in life cycle events, I am also a social worker, psychotherapist, mediator and trained as an interfaith chaplain. I worked with the American Red Cross after 9/11, providing counseling and support at the family assistance center, Ground Zero and the morgue. My doctoral research was focused on burnout and compassion fatigue, as part of my years of work in hospice and palliative care. My life experiences have taught me hope and how to cultivate resilience and wisdom.
This blog reflects my attempts to distill rabbinic wisdom into insights that can speak to all people. I have dedicated my life to healing and spiritual alchemy. I first began the writings that formed the basis of this blog as part of my role as Vice President of Mission for KentuckyOne Health, an interfaith hospital system that brought together Catholic, secular and Jewish hospital systems, in order to bring wellness, healing and hope to all, including the underserved. I began my weekly reflections on the Torah portion, in order to share some of Jewish Hospital's heritage and values with staff that may not have known much about Judaism. These reflections were then shared by staff with others who asked to be placed on my blind copy list, as well as by the system mission leader of Catholic Health Initiatives to his own reader list, along with his own reflections.
I have been profoundly humbled by the reactions to these writings, and as more people have asked to have access to them, I eventually worked to overcome my discomfort with the internet in order to publish them online. I realized that Jews and non-Jews were drawn to my inclusive interpretations of the biblical text, and my reflections on how to apply these in our every day. I believe that, much like the Sufi teaching that describes all the religions of the world like different prayer beads, with the same string of truth that runs through each of them, so too can these ancient spiritual and mystical teachings can come to life, when we reflect on the echoes of other world traditions and by contemporary psychological theory.
As my professional journey has continued to evolve, and I have found myself transitioning from pulpit rabbi to community rabbi, to who I am becoming as I seek to move beyond all labels, I have found that this site remains an important way for people to get to know me, and understand my theology.
I am fundamentally committed to the sacred act of translation- seeking to discern the Divine through text and life, and to translate those words of Torah and wisdom into reflections that can speak to people of all faith traditions... and in so doing, hopefully encouraging others to do the same. We are all created in the Image of G!d, and as such, each of us has our own unique understanding of the Sacred. In the same way as the rabbis teach that if even one letter from the scroll of the Torah is missing, the entire Torah has lost its sacredness (is no longer kosher), so too is this world diminished so long as people silence themselves. For too long, organized religion has been used as a weapon, to keep people silent and to teach shame... my quest as a rabbi, and indeed, as a human being, is to work to translate religious teachings into redemptive and healing truths, to seek to liberate s/Spirit and to work toward "tikkun olam" (the healing of the universe).
My current rabbinate is dedicated to teaching and mentoring other rabbis, and working with interfaith families, as well as those traditionally marginalized from mainstream Judaism. In the same way as the holiness of the Jewish prayer shawl (tallit) can be found in its fringes (tzitzit) so too do I believe that the most important contribution I can make to the Jewish people is "Keruv" (helping people find their way home), and to the broader world is "shleimut" (helping people to find wholeness). I also serve G!d as a social worker, doing what I can to work for justice for all people.
It is my prayer that the insights in this blog will bring healing and insight to others, and encourage others to find their voice and path. Thank you for your time reading my work.
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