This week we cannot assert that the Jewish lifelines of Torah study and prayer are irrelevant for our day. This week it is almost unnerving how much the Torah and our Jewish tradition have to say to us to guide our thoughts and decisions.
The haftarah for this Shabbat asserts:
The coastlands look on in fear,
the ends of the earth tremble. (Isaiah 41.5)
There have been those who have told me, in the past and more recently, that they prefer my messages when they do not overtly refer to politics. In that, those who have shared such a thought with me are in good company with our ancestors and with our Jewish community today; we all would like to simply go home and rest at the end of a difficult week, with no thoughts of more that we are called upon to do.
But the Jewish answer is this: you can go tell it to Jeremiah and Isaiah, to Micah and Elijah and Huldah. Our great prophets declared, for then and for always, that to be Jewish is to engage with G*d’s creation in all its forms. G*d is expressed in the world in every human breath and every planetary utterance, and it is hutzpah to assert that we will curate our response to the mitzvah to exclude that which troubles our rest.
We can feel an urgency echoing over the millennia since our ancestors first told the story of Lekh L’kha, pulling at us – and this is the sound of G*d’s voice calling, although you may prefer to call it by some other name. It does not matter what you call it, it only matters that you hear it.
We have gathered in larger communities and with each other, feeling a new feeling of needing to answer the call of this week’s parashah: Lekh l’kha, “go out from what you know, from the “homeland” of past certainties, the “parents’ house” of assuming safety and security, the “kindred” of spending time only with those who agree.
Our earliest ancestors – from whom we are all descended, not by bloodlines but by intentional and loyal acts – were known as Ivri, “the one who crosses over”. We are called upon this week as they were with the mitzvah, the obligation, of lekh l’kha, “get going”.
And our tradition does not abandon us there but is with us, with wisdom from our past to help us figure out where we are going. The text itself does not say: it simply commands “Get up and go from your homeland, your family home and your kin, and go to a land that I will show you.” (Bereshit 12.1)
We’ve been here before, and we know what to do and how to do it. We understand that this command speaks to us personally: Lekh l’kha, “go to yourself, for yourself” – what do you need to change in your life to be a more whole person?
We understand that this command speaks to us communally: Lekh “go to yourself” outward, into the world, in order to find what is l’kha, “for you” inside you.
And we understand that this command speaks to us holistically: Lekh l’kha, one cannot go forth without going inside. None of us is alone, and we must not allow anyone to forget that.
This Shabbat let the ancient words of the Prophet Isaiah inspire you and remind you: we have been here before. As Jews, our history and our tradition support and guide us and we do know what to do, even if we do not know where we are going: we must link hands and go forward together. Without demonizing the other, without ceding the high ethical ground, without losing hope.
They draw near and come,
each one helps the other,
saying to each other, “take courage!”
Not only for ourselves in our Jewish community, but beyond “kindred” to communities and individuals across all lines of division, we must reach out:
The woodworker encourages the smith,
The one who flattens with the hammer
encourages the one who pounds the anvil.
They say to each other, “it is good!”
and they support each other’s work
that it may not fall. (Isaiah 41.5-7)
May it be for you a Shabbat of spiritual and emotional strength gained from Torah, prayer, and g’milut hasadim, acting with loving kindness, that we may not fall.