When I was a kid, I dreamt about growing up and becoming a truck driver. I was fascinated with big rigs, 18 wheelers, and the different engines of trucks. I thought it would be so fun to drive across this glorious country and see so many different sites and landscapes and have the excitement of a truck’s wheel on my hands.
I think this obsession came from my childhood where we moved a lot. Large men, usually named Spike or Roy, would come to our home every few years and take our belongings and put them on a truck and take them to wherever we would make our home for the years to come. We left that which was comfortable, and started on the road to a new beginning.
By the time I was sixteen years young I had lived in six different places. Each of them was different and unique. Living in these places gave me a special perspective on dialects, pace of life, values of regions, temperatures and, of course, the topography of each location.
Seeing things from a new perspective is an important principle. That is perhaps the reason why every figure in the Bible takes journeys and most likely the reason there is never an “arrival” moment in Jewish history. We are a dynamic people always on the move.
Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden, Noah rides the waves of destruction to a new creation. Moses leads the Israelites through an Exodus. Jacob runs from his brother and runs after his missing son. Joseph is moved against his will to Egypt. We are a people constantly on the move. No one figure demonstrates that more boldly than Abram in this week’s Torah portion of Lech Lecha.
Abram is told by God, Lech lecha. Go, pack up your things and go from this land, your birthplace, your father’s land to a land that I will show you.
Similar to my family, it wasn’t Abram’s failure or calamity which caused his move, rather something was lacking. Spiritually Abram was not fulfilled and God wanted to develop a relationship with Abram. And, in order for that to happen, God required that Abram move physically in order to move spiritually.
Rashi explains the words “Lech lecha,” as “Abram, go, begin your journey, and there, you will worship me in the land of Israel, because all of the time you are outside the land you have no relationship with God.” It is clear from this source that the point of the physical journey was to grow spiritually and augment Abram’s relationship with God.
The Zohar explains the redundancy of the words “Lech Lecha” as a directive, explaining that for someone to move spiritually they must move physically too.
To gain perspective on things you have to shake it up a little, change them around. These changes are integral in advancing your relationship with God.
There is an interesting law that applies to a mourner. If someone is a regular attendee at synagogue, they most likely have an established seat. This is referred to as a makom kavua. The law teaches that in the unfortunate case of a loved one’s death, we must change our makom kavua, our established seat, for the entire year of mourning. At a time when we would naturally question God the most, we need to sit somewhere that would give us a new and different perspective so we can continue to advance our relationship with God. That is a beautiful code in our tradition encouraging us to maintain our connection with God, regardless of circumstance.
Changing, moving, looking at things from a new point of view — these are some of the most difficult things in the world to do. We all love our routine. We all feel secure with familiar neighborhoods. We love to walk into the diner and order the same drink and bagel without change. When we escape from our regular order, something seems different. It never tastes right and it inevitably throws our days off balance. Sometimes, we find ourselves changing our orders, we find ourselves on journeys. Most of the times we aren’t prepared for these journeys and they could not come at more inopportune time. Nonetheless, by embarking on them, we naturally cultivate our relationship with God
Journeys might be the hallmark of Judaism. We are a dynamic people. We pray the same liturgy everyday. Some days, certain prayers speak to us more than others. Often the same prayers inspire different thoughts. Each year we re-read the Torah from the beginning making our way through the last word. During every cycle we analyze different verses of the Torah, understand new concepts, apply ancient words to the here and now. The watchwords of Conservative Judaism are “tradition and change.” The “change” is the essential ingredient to our survival. We must work at changing our perspectives.
The Talmud Bavli teaches, “mishaneh makom mishaneh mazal,” by changing our place in life we can change our fortune. I suggest that we translate the text a bit differently. Instead of changing our fortune, we should understand it as changing our destiny.
Abram took a physical journey in his life and it led him to a deeper relationship with God that we all inherit today. Like Moses, Miriam, Abram, Joseph, the people of Israel, we are always seeking out our destiny. Like our ancestors, we are always on a journey.
Some of us have spiritual journeys. All of us take journeys, journeys that are different in nature, but all of them strengthen our individual character and change our perspective. Allow Lech Lecha to embrace the journey to the new and unknown and allow it to open our possibilities for deepening our connection with Judaism and God.