Jewish Holidays and Practices
A Guide for Newcomers
Click here for more »
Basic Holiday Info
Click here for more »
Think Pieces and Sermons
Click here for more »
[NOTE: Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky, JOI’s executive director, contributed the Torah commentary in this week’s New York Jewish Week newspaper. It is reprinted below.]
Journey From The Old, Into The Soul
by Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky
Special To The Jewish Week
Lech Lecha: Go for yourself, for your own sake. Not for the sake of the community, not for the sake of others. The Torah uses the emphatic form as the lead in this weekâ€™s Torah portion in order to make sure that Abraham understands the force of the directive. One command (lech) is not enough. It has to be repeated in such a way so as to make sure that Abraham â€” and we, by extension, as those who engage the Torah â€” fully comprehend the thrust of the Torahâ€™s instruction.
Lecha: For you, for your own well-being. Get out of this place. It is the only way that you can grow spiritually. If you remain here, you will stagnate. You will never reach the heights you seek. Even with its emphasis, the phrase â€ślech lechaâ€ť is only written once, but the intention is that it should be repeated often as a kavannah, a sacred mantra, so that we shouldnâ€™t forget this spiritual impetus wherever our lifeâ€™s journey takes us. The journey forward is indeed for our own benefit, our own good.
I realize that this understanding may be contrary to what many classical commentators suggest, for they say that it was Abrahamâ€™s faith in God that drew him forward from his complacency. Teachers like Rabbi Menachem Mendl of Kotzk put it this way: Faith is clearer than vision.
Such Abrahamic journeys are difficult to undertake, especially because when we leave, we think that we leave behind a piece of who we are, or what we once perceived our identity to be. And that is indeed true, because that is also how we influence those around us. Why else would there be signs of hometown heroes throughout North America?
If we leave part of our selves behind we may, therefore, feel no longer whole. But who we are includes where we came from. We carry it with us until we are able to transcend that place in what we have become and where we have come to.
All journeys include two steps: from and toward. For a journey to be complete, both are necessary. Abraham knew what he was leaving behind, but only in the course of his journey would he discover what he was going toward. But he also realizedâ€”as we learn elsewhere in the Torah â€” that the journey is in fact an important part of his spiritual growth. He came to realize an idea that the Torah repeats in one way or another throughout its narrative: the joy is in the journey. (Or, the growth is in the journey.)
In this Torah reading, Abraham offers us insight into the key question that all of us in the Jewish community should be answering, for ourselves and our younger generations â€” â€śWhy be Jewish?â€ť â€” by suggesting that the answer can be found in the context of his journey.
Some suggest that a reading of the initial text of this portion would yield â€śgo into yourself.â€ť Dig deeply into the self not before starting out on the road but while you are on it. That is part of its purpose. And while there, go beyond the self, beyond oneâ€™s level of comfort, beyond what is familiar. Because it is only there that you will find the answers you seek.
While many talk about the collective future of the Jewish community against a background of a generation of individual entitlement, it is important to note that the Torah directs us to make decisions for our own sake, as steps along our own journey. Parents, perhaps, understand this notion best. When making decisions regarding their children, they donâ€™t determine what is best for the community. Rather, they make decisions based on what is best for their children. And if we want those parents to include in those decisions â€śwhy be Jewish?â€ť or â€śwhy be part of the Jewish community?â€ť then we as a community had better provide them with substantive answers, irrespective of the religious backgrounds of these parents or their current levels of involvement.
In doing so, we can continue the journey of Abraham in order to find the self.
Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky is Executive Director of the Jewish Outreach Institute (www.JOI.org), a national, trans-denominational organization dedicated to serving the needs of Jews who have intermarried, Jews-by-choice, and unaffiliated Jews. He is also author of numerous books that bring the Jewish wisdom tradition into everyday living. Among his most recent books is â€śRituals and Practices for a Jewish Life: A Handbook for Personal Spiritual Renewalâ€ť (Jewish Lights).
No comments yet.