Abraham's Journey - Cantor George Mordecai
When talking recently to a group of teenagers about our tradition I was faced with questions from them concerning the historical accuracy and God-given nature of the Torah. They intelligently and eloquently challenged these traditional notions. I was delighted by their questioning and playful irreverence, as it reminded me of my own teenage years and my discomfort with traditional explanations of our sacred texts. It was only years after, after embarking on my own journey, that I was able to understand the true depth of our Torah.
After years of struggling and often rejecting our narratives I came to understand that the most profound aspect of our Torah lies not in its historical accuracy or even its sacred status: The Torah contains a series of interwoven stories as well as certain laws that teach us about the human condition. We relate to the Torah and its teachings because we see ourselves in the rich cast of characters and the complexity of the narrative. We are not presented with gods and goddess-like heroes but with human beings who struggle with anger, disappointment, jealousy, vengefulness and a host of other emotions. They also experience moments of ethical and spiritual clarity. Our portion this week begins with a command that is not at all connected to the narrative up to that point. ‘YHVH said to Abram, “Go forth (to yourself) from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”’ (Genesis 12:1). Abraham is asked by YHVH—Being, Ever-Unfolding—to leave all that is familiar and to go on a spiritual quest to find his true calling and purpose.
This journey will forever change Abraham and his clan as they make their way from Mesopotamia to the land of Canaan. Even though the journey is portrayed as a physical one, it is essentially a spiritual journey, one that we must all at some point take if we want to grow and evolve. Abraham had to leave his ‘place of birth’ in order to find his true purpose.
Our tradition holds Abraham in high esteem. He understood that there was something incomplete in himself and that he needed to go out to ‘himself’ to connect to that part of himself that was in the Divine image. He was a leader of his clan, a man who birthed a new way to relate to Divinity in the world. He was a man full of compassion arguing with God on behalf of his nephew Lot in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Along the way, however, he experienced many trials and made some terrible decisions: He was willing to let his wife Sarah be taken by the Egyptians. He banished his oldest son Ishmael and his mother Hagar, leaving them to fend for themselves in the desert. And, in one of the most famous stories of the Bible, he almost sacrificed his son Isaac, not even bothering to question God’s command! The Torah lets us know that a perfect human being or an ‘enlightened’ figure cannot be the goal of transformation. The process by which we go/come forth ‘to ourselves’ is a never ending one. There is never a point at which we will be completely righteous—perfectly enlightened. We learn from our ancestors— foremothers and forefathers—how to live our lives by studying and reflecting upon how they lived theirs. However, we also have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. If we deify our biblical ancestors, we run the risk of forfeiting our ability to learn from them. As we learn in the book of Deuteronomy, ‘Surely, this teaching … is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens …. No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.’ (Deuteronomy 30:11–14). The Torah is with us in the marketplace of life, where we are being tested—just like Abraham—every day of our lives.
Cantor George Mordecai
7 Ocean Street
Woollahra, NSW 2025
p: 02 9389 6444
Shabbat, January 30, 2021
17th of Sh'vat, 5781
Friday, January 29 2021 7:44PM
Motzei Shabbat 8:20PM
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