A Shabbat of Journeys

This coming Friday, the Jewish community will begin Shabbat (the Sabbath) by reflecting upon the wisdom from Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1-17;27; 40:27-41:16) which describes how the Eternal Source of Love, Justice and Wisdom called to Abram and Sarai to leave their home and family to go forth on a journey to a place they did not know.

“Lech lecha” they were told, The Hebrew of this commandment is not fully clear, because it is grammatically unusual which is generally a clue to the early Rabbis that buried within this grammatical inconsistency was a deeper spiritual teaching. “Lech” means to go or walk while “lecha” means “to you” or “for you”. So this commandment can be understood as “go to you” or “go for you”.

In a sense this is the essence of all spiritual quests: the quest to journey toward meaning and purpose… to self-actualize… to fulfill the potential that was implanted within each of us… to become true to ourselves… to discover our voice and truth and to find ways of living it and sharing it with others.

This is the quest of a lifetime. And often, life’s events get in the way of our destiny. Meetings. Appointments. Distractions. Addictions… and so much more. The stories we tell ourselves about who we are supposed to be or what we are supposed to do. The stories others tell about us. The ways that Truth is so deeply hidden in this world, and the ways that our journeys are manipulated by others… the ways in which injustice impacts our ability to journey… the list goes on.

And so it is, that every year, this Torah portion reminds us to go forth… to journey… to venture into the unknown… even if it means leaving everything behind… everyone we know behind… there are times when this is part of our journey… and there are times when we find ways of bringing others with us…

The Torah tells us that this was the case with Abram and Sarai… and that along their journey to their destiny they met new people who joined them… and during their journeys they changed their name to Abraham and Sarah… The rabbis even suggest that they may have changed their gender as part of their journey to selfhood… and we are taught that they were the very first Jews. And indeed, while they struggled to have a child biologically (like many queer couples) they became the parents of the Jewish people. And so it is that, in discerning their path, their courage to be fully themselves and embrace their truth and live authentically was the start of a new religion that eventually grew into three religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

We the children of Abraham have been tasked to continue this quest: “Lech lecha” – go forth and become who I created you to be… Be true to yourself. The call is different for each of us, because we were each created with our own unique purpose- our own unique understanding of G!d’s Torah/revelation/Wisdom. Perhaps that call manifests as Love and the ways in which the heart commands us… perhaps it is the call of Justice and the quest to fix that which is wrong… perhaps it is the call of Wisdom and the yearning to understand and make sense… Each of us are called in our own way- and we may call it conscience or obligation or gut feeling or any number of other words… but we know when we need to do something or not do something. The challenge is that more often than not, we don’t feel like we can or should. And when we try to stifle this Divine Call, that is when problems tend to begin.

Our Torah portion for this week reminds us that we are each called to authenticity and self-actualization every time we feel compelled by the Source of Love, Justice and Wisdom to do or be something that can lead to blessing. Life can sometimes distract us from this quest, and many will tell us to stop listening to voices or being deviant from the way everyone else lives.. but Judaism is about courage… it is about being true to ourselves and our understanding of what G!d wants for each of us.

According to Jewish tradition, every time a person joins the Jewish people, their Jewish name gets the addition of the parents Abraham and Sarah, their spiritual ancestors, who followed their understanding of the Call of the Source of Love, Justice and Wisdom to become who they were meant to become… The rabbis teach that all Jewish souls gathered at Mount Sinai to experience the revelation that we understand to be Torah/Wisdom- those born and unborn… and that this means also those who were not born Jewish but rather converted to Judaism. We recognize that all those who convert to Judaism are never to be seen as different in any way, their souls were always Jewish.

Increasingly, in our generation, we are witnessing another phenomenon as well- a third way of becoming Jewish… those whose ancestors were Jewish, but because of antisemitism, they hid their true selves, often converting or trying to erase their Jewishness when they escaped persecution and arrived in North America, where they had hoped for religious freedom, but instead, too often encountered the same hatred and religious colonialism that they sought to flee. And so it is that more and more, we are also blessed to witness the return of those descendants of those who hid their true selves, in order to try and stay alive. We pray that our world will be safe and hospitable to all those who recognize that they must leave what they know in order to become who they were created to be.

Tomorrow night, the Reform Jewish Community of Atlantic Canada will be welcoming/welcoming back to our family four wonderful people as we name them with Jewish names, bless them and be inspired by them to reconnect to the ways that each of us are called to become who we were created to be. We welcome all who wish to celebrate Shabbat with us by joining us for virtual worship services tomorrow night, November 4th at 6PM Atlantic (5PM Eastern/6:30 PM NFLD).

Please register for the Zoom link: https://urj.tfaforms.net/939