Sermon: Lekh Lekha – The Journey Outward & Inward

Parashat Lekh Lekha
October 11, 2013
Temple B’nai Chaim

Rabbi David A. Lipper

Our text this evening begins with these words …

1 Now God said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your ancestral house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 4 So Abram went, as God had told him; and Lot went with him…. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then God appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to God, who had appeared to him.  (Genesis 12)

Joseph Campbell, who was steeped in the area of comparative religion, once said the following in an interview with journalist Bill Moyers, about the difference between a myth and a dream:

a dream is a personal experience of that deep, dark ground that is the support of our conscious lives, and a myth is the society’s dream. The myth is the public dream and the dream is the private myth. If your private myth, your dream, happens to coincide with that of the society, you are in good accord with your group. If it isn’t, you’ve got an adventure in the dark forest ahead of you.

There is a significant shift from the mythological, primeval tales of Genesis 1-11 (Creation, the Garden of Eden, Noah and the Tower of Babel), and the legendary, ancestral history of Genesis 12-36.  To oversimplify, both myths and legends have universal themes, but legends arguably have some historical kernel that myths lack. Then, in Genesis 37-50 we get what some scholars call a “novella” about Joseph (and his Amazing Technicolor Dream coat”) that include significantly more detail that we get for any of the preceding ancestral stories.

I remember that in my first Bible class at HUC in Cincinnati we were assigned to read the Book of Genesis, but with a critical difference from the way that many of us had grow-up reading this book in Sunday School. We were assigned to read this first book of the Bible as if it were any other piece of literature. One of the questions posed by the Professor was “What were the three promises God made to Abraham according to the Book of Genesis?” The correct answers were to make Abraham: a great nation, [to make his] name great, and that [in Abraham] all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

Indeed, in many interfaith dialogue circles, it is highly significant that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all “Abrahamic” Faiths.

Bruce Feiler in his book on Abraham writes: “Abraham is the man who reminds us that even though God may have cut the umbilical cord with humans, humans still need nourishment from God.” He continues, “The lesson of Abraham’s life is that being human is not safe or comfortable. Being human is being uncertain, being on the way to an unknown place.” In many ways Abraham represents the beginning of battling with God, the journey becomes a give and take, not just a long walk in the woods or to the woodshed.

A long walk … a journey … a personal dream …

In 2008, a poet, Magin LaSov Gregg wrote a poem on the first words of our Sidra … Lekh Lekha.   Her poem, “Exodus 20:8,″ was a runner up in the Charlotte Newberger Prize for Poetry, sponsored by Lilith Magazine.

Remember the mornings

When the day stretches out

Like a cat catching sun

In the fringe of her coat, curling

Her belly into a shallow dish

Eager to receive the light.

In this moment, even the bed,

Its sheets skimming the floor, collecting dust

In the sunlight, appears to be gilded

And the kitchen sink that holds last night’s dishes,

May resemble a cradle; because there is life inside.

And it is the same way with children who, in play

Roll like worms in the dirt and say

They are really flowers.

See how they stand,

As we all do, on holy ground

That at first looks like mud.

When, after a dream of death, we rise up, alive

Ready to walk into the dark

Unknown of the day, each step a whisper

Of lech lecha.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes,

We have arrived at the watershed of the Book of Genesis. Prior to Abraham, all four dramas of Genesis dealt with the evasion and abdication of responsibility. Adam denies personal responsibility. Cain denies moral responsibility. Noah fails the test of collective responsibilities. Babel was a rejection of ontological responsibility [trying to deny human responsibility and assume the responsibility of being God]…. Abraham represents the turning point, offering a counterpoint to the previous failures.

Unlike Adam, Abraham accepts personal responsibility, heeding the word of God and setting out on a journey in obedience to the divine call. Adam is exiled from Eden against his will. Abraham undergoes a kind of voluntary exile, bidding farewell to the familiar in search of the unknown guided only by the voice of God.

Unlike Cain, he accepts moral responsibility, rescuing his nephew Lot from war. He is his brother’s — more precisely, his brother’s sons’s — keeper, the very principle Cain denied….

Unlike Noah, he accepts communal responsibility, arguing in the face of God the need to save the community of Sodom and Gomorrah should there be a remnant, 10 righteous people, within its walls worth saving.

And unlike the story of Babel, he accepts ontological responsibility, in the shadow to come of the mountain of God and the binding of his own son upon an altar of sacrifice. He in essence, stands proud in his faith in the goodness of the Holy and Blessed One and refuses to blink in the face of such a horrific moment.  

That is the deep meaning of the words Lekh Lekha. Normally they are translated as, “Go, leave, travel.” What they really mean is: Journey (lekh) to yourself, (lekah). Leave behind all external influences that turn you into a victim of circumstances beyond your control, and travel inward to the self. It is there — only there — that freedom is born, practiced and sustained.

What resonates with you most in this time of transition and living into new things and new lands? How is God calling this Shabbat to both journey outward and to journey inward to your deepest self?

I believe that Genesis affords us the opportunity to dream. It enables risk taking and relationship. Genesis enables us to view God as limitless, stretching from the beginning of creation to the very end of time and beyond. And it pushes us to search … not along some pathway into the forest, but within to the deepest parts of our self.

Abraham and his children … us today … are told to go forth.   And the going forth is a going in and the outward search is recognition of what was always within … divinity … nefesh … sacred ensoulment.

So on this Shabbat of Lekh Lekha … a prayer for all of us…

בָּרוּךְ אַתָה, יְיָ אֱלֹהַי, הַבּוֹרֵא וְקַיֵם אֵת כַּל הֶחַיִים, אַשֶׁר הִנְהִיג לִי עַל מַסָעתִי אֵל בְּרִיאוּת, שְׁלֵימוּת וְשָׁלוֹם. אַמֵן

Baruch Ata, Adonai Elohai, HaBorey V’kayam et kol hehayim, asher hinhig li al masati,

el briyut, sheleimut v’shalom. Amen

Blessed are You, Adonai my God, Creator and sustainer of all life, who guides me on my journey to healing, wholeness and peace. Amen.

Shabbat Shalom