Who out there is just a little bit relieved that the holidays are over? Of course, they were wonderful, but finally, we can say goodbye to all those relatives, our children can start their fall routine at school, and we can get something done at work. The Torah portions reflect this new rhythm as we settle into the narrative of the book of Genesis, beginning to unfold the story of Abraham and his family.
Yet this week's portion also jolts us out of any early complacency we may be feeling from our return to routine. In Lech Lecha, we are riveted from the first words: "The Lord said to Abram, 'Go forth from your native land and from your father's house to the land that I will show you.' " Lech Lecha — "go forth" — is a radical command.
Abram is asked to leave everything he knows behind and to go toward the unknown. He is asked to give up the familiar and to trust God. This is a command of action. He and his family must physically leave their birthplace for a place yet to be revealed. God tells Abram that God will bless him, make him a great nation, and that, in turn, he shall be a blessing.
This Torah portion — coming only three weeks after the fall holidays — is placed to remind us of the boldness and responsibility that God requires from all of us. After all the work of reflection and atonement that goes into Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is easy to feel that our work is done for a time. The joy of Sukkot and Simchat Torah actually affirm this through celebration.
Lech Lecha comes to remind us that we are not done, and that our work is ongoing. It reminds us that the hard work of the High Holidays was to reflect and take account of our past actions, and that now is the time to "go forth" and make good on our resolutions for change. Abram is asked to leave his past behind (even his name changes), to abandon his birthplace and to look ahead to the birthplace of his descendants.
Act Boldly for the Future
In Judaism, we are accustomed to physically leaving places, but we have developed a strong attachment to our history. Lech Lecha reminds us that we must also be future-oriented. Sometimes, we must leave our past and act boldly for the future. This is part of the responsibility of being a blessing.
Just three Torah portions into the new cycle, we are already being reminded: There is no rest for the weary! Life is an ongoing journey toward being a blessing for other people, and following God to the place that God will show us.
We must go forward with trust and the energy to continue to act for the future. We must not become complacent. The work of the year does not have a special holiday to mark it, and this portion reminds us that it doesn't need one. After all, it is not special work, but rather that of the everyday — the consistent work of practicing how we will manifest blessing in this world.
As we each settle into our fall routines, may God's command to Abram to go forth and be a blessing remind us of the potential and the responsibility that we each have for action.
May we enter the future with the trust and energy to do the work of blessing in the world.
Rabbi Danielle Stillman is a Reconstructionist rabbi and the Hillel adviser at Ursinus College. E-mail her at: [email protected]