One of my favorite musicians, John Hiatt, conjures the spirit of this week’s Torah portion in his song, “You Must Go”:
When that howling wind
Comes to carry you again
Just like your next of kin
You must go
To a far away place
Where you don’t recognize one face
Don’t unpack your old suitcase
Cause you must go
You must go and you must ramble
Through every briar and bramble
Till your life is in a shambles
Maybe then you will know
You were born to blunder
Born to wander, born to wonder
Even when you’re six feet under
There’s a place
You must go
“You must go. . .” This is a good translation of the opening line of this week’s portion, Lech L’chah. The Eternal calls Abraham and tells him, “You must go. . . from your homeland, your birthplace, your kin. . . and head out into the unknown, to the place that I will show you.”
Abraham heeds the command and goes forth, as does his wife Sarah. This demonstrates remarkable courage. Abraham leaves behind so much that he knows and loves: family and friends, familiar language and culture, plans and expectations for his future. His ability to muster the faith to leave on the basis of a mysterious divine call is extraordinary. And I find Sarah’s faith greater still, for she makes all of the same sacrifices as her husband—without having heard the call directly herself.
Yet Abraham and Sarah do not set out without any resources. As the text tells us, they brought with them “ the souls that they had acquired in Haran.” As Rabbi Yael Levy interprets this: Torah here reminds us that we don’t have to let go of everything in order to become more of ourselves. We can lift up where we have been, we can call forth love, we can hold the resources we have gathered. These practices can help us step forward into the paths of uncertainty.
We all have our “Abraham/Sarah moments.” With almost every major challenge that we confront, whether planned (new job or school, relationship, move, having a child) or unplanned (illness, relationship, having a child), we essentially journey into the unknown. We make our choices, but when we do, we are largely in the dark, without a clear understanding of what we are really getting ourselves into. This is frightening for us, as it was for Abraham and Sarah.
But we do not journey alone. As Rabbi Levy concludes: The Mystery of the Universe is by our side, has our back and will be with us through the challenges and into the blessings. The Mystery of the Universe will help us find our way again and again.