Lech Lecha: Let Me Show You Another Way
Last night I couldn’t sleep. Sitting awake on my couch, I opened my phone and was flipping through my calendar to see my appointments for the coming day. As I loaded the app on the phone, I had accidentally toggled the view to see my whole week, not just a single day and let out a tired sigh. I saw how busy I am, how busy my wife is and how busy my kids are. I reflected on the sheer quantity of it all. It just seems we can never catch our breath. Between my pastoral appointments, staff meetings, speaking and teaching my kids sports and school schedules, my wife’s schedule with her work, there is just so much to balance. We are always on the move. It occurred to me late last night to ask, for what reason? Why is it that there is all this activity and running around yet it feels like we never get anything done?
My thoughts drift to the Torah where I find so much wisdom. In this week’s Torah portion Abram, (his name does not change until later), makes his first appearance as a central character. Abram is dwelling (lit. sitting) in a place called Haran with his wife Sarai (her name also changes later), his nephew Lot, and their family servants. Abram just buried his father Terah and is now the patriarch of the family. Suddenly the voice of God shows up and says to him, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you.” (Gen.12:1-2)
When reading this line I was struck with this question. How come it took so long for God to show up? What was Abram busy doing with his life before this moment?
The rabbis try to fill in the answer to this question philosophically by pointing out that Abram came to know God by pondering nature and our place in it. There is the old tale of Abram in his father’s idol shop, breaking apart the stone and wood statues to show that they are nothing. Or the lesser known story of Abram’s run-in with a king named Nimrod in which they have a philosophical discussion about the nature of reality.
These are noble efforts to agrandaize our first father, but nowhere in the Torah do these stories exist. In fact, if you read the Torah at its face value, what we in the rabbinic world called the peshat, Abram is thunderstruck by God’s command. He had an entire life before the fateful command to “get up and go.” He grew up, got married, had a career and lived long enough on earth to bury his father. Abram was not a young man when he arrived to Haran. He was firmly middle-aged. Abram has had an entire lifetime building up himself up, and now all of a sudden a new voice arises and says “Abe, Let Me show you another way.”
Without discounting his past, God shows Abram a new way of living life. A life of purpose and not just of material success. A life about other people, not just himself. A life of meaning by working towards goodness. It’s not a life that easy or free of obligation. Abram is not going on vacation with God. Life is hard, and if we look closely at God’s command, God says to Abram, “I will bless you,” not “I will make your life easy or less busy.”
A blessed life is a life a meaning, not a life of leisure. While rest and fun are part of a greater scheme that can make life great, it is purpose and meaning that make life truly worthwhile. There is a difference between simply being busy, and living vividly with meaning and purpose. Perhaps that’s this precious moment of Lech Lecha. It is a moment when Abram is finally in a place to see life differently. To look at the world with a more total perspective beyond the self. In other words, to look through God’s eyes. Abram has woken up that there are multiple ways of being successful. The ease of life is not the point of life. He listens to God, and enters a world of meaning and blessing. His new life as is filled with many tragedies and trials along the way, but he is resilient. Abram is strong and can whether the storm of life’s difficulties. He is always on the move, but in the end of his life he feels thoroughly blessed because his life has deep meaning.
As I sat in the dark on the couch, I took a breath and felt close to my tradition. I looked back at my calendar and saw it not as a list of activities, but as a moral document. Calendars reflect back to us the choices we make on how to use our time. So take a moment and really look at your calendar. Ask yourself, of all the activities you choose to be part of, which one’s give you meaning? Which activities help you grow? Which one’s give you a life of blessing? And if not, how can you quiet your mind to hear the voice that says, “Let Me show you another way.”