Human beings are fascinated with journeys. Almost every culture has a way of showcasing the unforeseen experiences awaiting us beyond the horizon. One example is the classic Chinese proverb: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Further, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is America’s love letter to exploration.
We intersect with Judaism’s own version of this value in this week’s Torah portion. Parshat Lech Lecha opens: “Hashem said to Abram, ‘Go from your land, and from your birthplace, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’” (Genesis 12:1) Understanding that this command to Abram and Sarai could be heard as ominous, Rashi frames these words as a blessing. Go, he writes, “for your own benefit, for your own good. There I will make of you a great nation, while here you will not merit the privilege of having children.” Abraham and Sarah are transformed not just by the miles covered, but also through their faith that the entirety of their mission possesses meaning beyond themselves. Further, they take each step with a sense that their purpose and destiny are intertwined with their destination.
Lech Lecha is my bar mitzvah portion, so I have read these words countless times. Each and every time I revisit these words, I have identified with Abraham, the son embarking on a journey. The sentiments of Lech Lecha informed my steps when I travelled to Israel and Poland in the 1980’s, when I moved to New York for rabbinical school, when my career took me to a synagogue in Chicago, and when I walked down the aisle to begin a family.
And yet, amidst these exciting milestones, I do not recall giving a lot of thought to what my parents might be thinking. These transitions were about me, the son heading out on the road.
This all changed in August when we took our son, Joseph, to the airport for his year of study in Jerusalem. Before he boarded the plane, we gave him a blessing, the one we say every Friday night.
The moment felt so familiar, yet something was different. I recall many moments like these when my parents would bless me, and after a long embrace, I would fly away shortly thereafter.
But this time, I was the one staying behind, watching our son walk on his own path. As Joseph headed towards the gate surrounded by his friends, I realized that this was his first step towards the land that Hashem promised Abraham and Sarah.
As the war unfolds in Israel, I can’t stop thinking about all the parents who have recently watched their children walk out the front door to fight, to learn, to sing, and to work towards something better for Israel and the Jewish people. All because of two words: “Lech Lecha.”
While it is hard to stay behind and watch the next generation embark on their own journey, comfort, confidence, and pride swells with the idea that, in many cases, our sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, neighbors and friends are living the values we taught them. At a moment when the Jewish community is feeling scarred and scared, this week’s Torah portion reminds us that Israel is more than a location. Israel is also an idea that guides our path, elevates us during life’s twists and turns, and connects us across the generations.
May the Jewish people today and generations to come be blessed with not only a curiosity about what lies beyond the horizon, but also the peace of mind that comes with feeling safe, loved, and supported at home.