The parashah begins with God’s call to Avram (his name won’t be changed to Avraham until later) to “Go forth from your land, from your kindred, from your father’s house, to the land that I will let you see. I will make a great nation of you and will give you blessing and will make your name great. Be a blessing!”
What does it mean to be a blessing? Even for us, those who are accustomed to the concept of berakha/blessing have difficulty wrapping our minds around this. How much more difficult must it have been for Avraham, who was raised in a polytheistic, idolatrous and superstitious culture, and who is having his first encounter with the Divine, to understand what he was being commanded to do.
How frightening it must have been for him be told to leave his place of grounding and to travel to a place that he has not yet seen, with only a promise of a great future and the commandment to be a blessing! This is not how I would like to be sent on my great spiritual quest! And yet this is exactly how each of us embarks on the greatest spiritual quest of all. Living.
In many ways each day we are commanded Lekh Lekha (for a male), or Lekhi Lakh (for a female). Each day we are each commanded by the Divine within us to go forth from the place that we have each come to think of as “my land.” Every day we are asked to leave the place that we view as “home.” Every day we are taking a journey to a place that we will be allowed to see only when we arrive there. The strange thing is that we don’t really know we’re there even when we arrive, because the goal of our journey is constantly changing.
If this is the challenge we face each and every day of our lives, then it is a wonder that any of us embark on the journey. Why don’t we all simply stay where we are and live out our lives in blissful ignorance that anything or anyplace else exists? Perhaps it is God’s promise that provides the answer. For we are each promised to be a great nation, to receive divine blessing and for our names to be made great. But what does that mean?
The parashah is the story of one individual’s journey, yet it is also the birth of a new nation. Avraham’s journey is the Jewish people’s journey. Each of our journeys is also the journey of our people, if not of all humanity. If we are all connected to one another through the light of the Divine, then we are each part of one another’s journey. By undertaking our individual journeys, then, we are aiding in the human journey, the goal of which is to make all of humanity a great nation. Not “one nation under God” in the particularistic sense of our nation’s Pledge, but in the universal sense of “one humanity, one people, united through God.” God is that life force that is within each of us and connects us to one another — however we choose to envision or define that. By being part of the universal journey, we become intimately connected to the Divine flow of blessing.
Believing that God will “make your name great” does not mean that any one individual’s name will be greater than another’s. Rather, it means that for each of us our name — which represents our essence — will be made great because we have acknowledged the connection to the Oneness of God and the Universe. Each of our names is made great by acknowledging that no name, no person, is greater than any other. We are all created in God’s image. We are all blessed by God — we simply have to pay attention and recognize this. In this way, the final command “be a blessing” can be read: “be what you are meant to be. Recognize the reality of existence that you are part of a whole that is indeed more than the proverbial sum of its parts. When you do so then you will recognize the Divine blessing flowing through you and connecting you to all of humanity and the world.”
Even with this interpretation of the text, I am still left with a sense that Avram is not being provided a sense of something in which he can trust in order to begin the journey. But that is also an essential truth of life. We are never provided with the assurance of any particular outcome when we embark on our journeys. We set out in one direction, but we have no idea if that is where we will end up. Perhaps it is faith in the outcome that gives us strength, and that gave Avram strength.
Faith is a wonderful attribute, but it can also be potentially damaging. For if we have faith that our journey will end one way and it ends another way, then we must either abandon our faith, assume that we have misread the clues that God had provided us, or believe that God has abandoned us because we have in some way abandoned God. But if we imagine faith as simply the ability to accept that wherever we are at any given moment is where we are meant to be — regardless of whether or not we viewed it as our “destination” — then faith can indeed give us strength. However, it still does not give us any assurances.
The Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron wrote a book titled Comfortable with Uncertainty. This simple phrase has guided my life at times, but in reality it should guide all of our lives at any given moment. Suffering, sadness and disappointment are usually caused by clinging to the idea that anything is permanent or that we know exactly where we are going in life.
When the reality that “nothing is forever” is experienced, it is like a slap in the face. The same can be said when we realize that the goal that we had set for ourselves has eluded us, or when we end up in a place that we had never imagined. But if we have faith in the the Divine, and in ourselves as part of the Divine, then we can acknowledge where we are as the end of the journey for this particular moment, and we can hopefully embrace it. We can then continue on our journey of blessing being as present in each moment, as Avram was at the moment when he first heard God’s call. We cannot be guaranteed certainty in life. However, we can become not only comfortable with uncertainty, but able to view it as a blessing filled with potential and possibilities. This awareness can occur in spite of, or perhaps even because of, the fears that are still very real for each of us — as I’m sure they were for Avram and Sarai. But I would like to believe that this sense of being a blessing — even in the midst of uncertainty —is what allowed Avram and Sarai to embark on their journeys. Just as it allows us each to embark on our journeys into the unknown, each and every day, each and every moment of our lives.