Lech Lecha (5775) — On the Road

10/11/2014 at 14:58 Leave a comment

“On the Road”

 

Parashat Lech Lecha

Neil F. Blumofe

1 November 2014

 

After wandering through the lands of Canaan and Egypt, Avram and his household disperse – Lot choosing to settle in the fertile plains of the Jordan, and Avram setting up his tent in the plains of Mamre, in Hebron, which is in the rocky and barren Hill Country. Much had passed between Avram and his nephew Lot, before they decided to split up. Moving together from Ur Kasdim, together with their family, they had walked an uncertain road, following the direction of an unfamiliar God – leaving their surety and recognizable signposts, behind.

Along the way, they had acquired riches – and rather than bringing them closer together, this wealth served to separate them further, as illustrated in the following verse: va’ya’al Avram miMitzrayim hu v’ishto v’chol asher lo, v’Lot imo hanegbah – So Avram went up from Egypt, he with his wife, and all that was his – and Lot with him, into the Negev. By placing Lot last in the list, after everything and everyone else, our tradition is showing that the relationship between Avram and Lot is off – that something is unsettled.

Indeed, one of the beautiful ways that the Torah is expressed, is in an understated style – our tradition pays attention to every word, and every nuance – as the 20th century scholar Nehama Leibowitz reminds us, the order of words in the verse is not accidental. Changes in emphasis, approval and disapproval and shades of meaning are not imparted, in the Torah, through long-winded psychological explanations or verbose analysis, but by a subtle syntactical devise or seemingly insignificant but definitely unusual turn of phrase, combination, order or choice of words.

After journeying across this new land, Avram and Lot realize that they are not good traveling companions, so Avram suggests that they split up – and despite the promise that God gives Avram that the land is his, in his self-effacing, faithful nature, Avram lets Lot choose where he would like to settle – and selfishly, Lot chooses the well-watered plain, leaving the less desirable land to his older uncle — and then Lot sets off immediately, without a farewell dinner, a going away party, and without ceremony. We realize that two distinct lines are forming – Avram and his family, and Lot, who is the antecedent of the Ammonites and the Moabites – both whom would be prohibited from entering the community of Israel, as our tradition teaches, because of a chronic ingratitude.

As we live, is our experience peopled by those with whom we were once close, and now for whatever reason or exigency, we are now living estranged, or in uneasy, fractured relationship? Like Father Avram, do we wish that we could start fresh – to reset – to really hear the voice of God, asking us to leave our land, our relatives, our ancestral home and go to a mysterious, strange land? And yet, we know that this break is not clean, and will not solve our interpersonal challenges – our baggage comes with us, no matter where we go.

When hearing God’s voice, why did Avram need to leave where he was – the traditional answer is that he was surrounded by idolatry – by people who were too far gone to support his revising version of what is holy and sacred. Avram needed to create his own life, away from that which is too familiar – and yet — we now see Avram, relinquishing part of his chosen family. Lot chooses to associate with the residents of Sodom and Gemorrah, idolaters in the their own right — folks who would be hard-pressed to accept Avram’s different way of life, as well.

The previous patterns from Avram’s homeland are again being established in Canaan. Although Avram may look to reinvent himself, who he intrinsically is, is already established. His new land is his homeland. How do we act when we are not at home, when we are on the road? Our culture may idealize road trips, as the American novelist, Jack Kerouac has written – I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility. And yet, as we travel with our people, or pick up new relationships, over time, the smallest irritants surface in these spaces, things that distract us from our frustrations at home are not present when we travel, and aggravation rises in a more compressed and destructive way, perhaps leaving us worse than before. In Avram’s case, to travel together is not to get away from it all, at all.

Avram and Lot are living apart – Avram finding his way a bit more difficult in the inferior land. Perhaps he has already set up his rationale and his defenses, adjusting his everyday pattern, knowing that his ex is out there – that previously close relationships, now impoverished, are real, just beyond the bend. We look to insulate ourselves from the casualties of our relationships – from our outstanding hurts — we withdraw, we paper over, we strut and bluster, hoping that our offensive, overcompensating position will intimidate or shut down the sting of brokenness that we carry, wherever we are.

And yet, Avram goes to bat for Lot – when the kings of Sodom and Gemorrah go out to fight their attackers and are overpowered and Lot is captured, Avram does not hesitate to redeem him, going to the far North, past Damascus and organizing nighttime raids against great odds, to bring his nephew back safely to Sodom.

The Torah does not record a reunion or even a note of gratitude between Avram and Lot. Once saved, Lot disappears back to his well-watered life in the lush fields of the Jordan Valley. Any hopes for reconciliation within the family dry up. What compelled Avram to risk his life, to rescue his nephew? Was this daring mission, part of God’s unfolding plan of Avram’s inheritance?

In any healing work that we may do, what rewards do we expect? Do we expect our work to be lauded, or even noticed? How do we prove ourselves when we look to establish ties? What is simply ours for the taking, and what must we fight for? In our daily lives, are we on a journey, past the familiar, always looking to remake ourselves, and yet obligated to address busted relationships, finding a way to rescue that which is held captive and which we would not otherwise engage?

Avram saving Lot is the deepest lesson of his journey. Withstanding the stings of insult and impertinence are secondary to his commitment to manage his hurt and disappointment, and to show up for one in his past who is threatened and vulnerable. In hearing the directive of God to go, Avram in fact did not walk out on his home – he brought his home with him, and in difficult, transitory circumstances, issued a repair that allowed his home to flourish, in its dissolution. As John Steinbeck writes — a journey is a person in itself; no two are alike and all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip – a trip takes us.

Shabbat Shalom.

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