Torah Reading for Week of October 14-20, 2018
“Steps into the Unknown with Faith”
by Rabbi Alicia Magal, ’03
The views expressed in this drash are those of the author. We welcome Torah insights and teachings from all viewpoints, and encourage dialogue to strengthen the diversity of our academy.
Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1 – 17:27) opens up with an invitation by God to Abraham to Go…. But not just Lech – Go, but Lecha – to, for or into yourself!
What a scary proposition. Abraham and Sarah are old, settled, well-to-do, established in Haran. He is to leave behind his wealth, parents, home, and the culture in which he has grown up. But something stirs in him, and he heeds this calling to set forth into the unknown.
He and his wife are blessed and strengthened by receiving an added divine letter ‘hey’ to their names – Abram becomes Abraham, and Sarai becomes Sarah. If we are to read each Torah narrative as a personal guide as well as the toldot – the history and generations and unfolding consciousness – of our Jewish people, then this year in encountering the going forth of Abraham I find a strong and empowering message:
Yes, you may encounter tough times (Abraham faced a famine in Canaan), struggles to overcome (Abraham had to wage wars to rescue his nephew Lot), you may have relatives who get in with the wrong crowd (Lot lives in Sodom and Gomorrah whose inhabitants represent the opposite of Abraham’s ideal of hospitality), you have great disappointments (Abraham and Sarah are initially childless), you may have to endure traumatic separations (that will occur in the next two portions regarding his handmaid Hagar and their son Ishmael), but… you still step forth, because that is how you learn who you truly are in the face of all these trials and tests. Do you keep to your faith? Do you hold to your ideals? Do you fight when necessary? Do you influence other souls to live a good, ethical life? Do you celebrate with gratitude?
As I begin this new cycle of Torah readings and dive into Genesis once more at the beginning of 5779, I have a new perspective: I am stepping forth for the good of myself, my family, and my congregation, not to a new land or position, but a huge internal change in consciousness, for the first time as a caregiver. Immediately before the High Holy Days, my husband Itzhak was diagnosed with lung cancer, metastasized to the spine, and began radiation and chemo treatments. This led to a total change in how we saw the world; we changed our diet to plant-based, read many books and sought counsel from many – often contradictory – professionals.
I really felt as though I was leaving a “known land” and a sense of in-place well-being into a new unknown territory of alternative treatments besides conventional Western medicine. The support from family, friends, congregants, and community members has been very heart-warming and helpful. We know there are still challenges ahead, but we are moving forward with faith, treasuring each day.
I imagine that my view of each Torah portion and each holiday this year will emerge from a very different angle than previously. And that is the point: Torah is a teaching guide for our lives as a people, as a community, and as individuals. At each stage of life, there are lessons to be learned, and if we turn to our holiest source, we may derive a guiding message to help us make life-enhancing, ethical decisions, for, to, and into ourselves.