2016-11-09 / Religion Column

Allow yourself to be a part of a generation that walks in God’s ways

RABBI NATHAN WEINER
Congregation Beth Tikvah/ Marlton

Parashat Lech Lecha Gen. 12:1-17:27

At the outset of parashat “Lech Lecha,” God speaks suddenly and without introduction to Abram for the first time. God famously commands Abram to “Go forth from your native land, the place of your birth, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1) God continues by promising Abram a number of blessings, and Abram responds by promptly and without question doing as instructed, as it says, “So Abram went as God had spoken to him.” (Genesis 12:4) And thus sparks a people, a covenant, and a belief system of which we, the Jewish people, are the inheritors. The many stories that follow about Abram, who becomes Abraham, are well known. What isn’t known is very much, if anything at all, about Abram before God speaks to him.

Here is what we do know about Abram’s life until this point: At the end of last week’s parsha, parashat Noach, we learn that Terach begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran. (Genesis 11:26) The parsha then concludes by telling us that Terach goes with Abram, Sarai, and Abram’s nephew Lot in the direction of Canaan, but they inexplicably choose instead to settle in Haran. (Genesis 11:31-32). And that’s it.

Before speaking to Abram, the last time that God speaks to a human takes place in Genesis 9, when after the great flood, God makes a covenant with Noah. This covenant is symbolized by the rainbow, and in it, God promises to never destroy humanity again. It is wholly 10 generations between Noah and Abram, during which time God does not speak to a human. (God does speak in Genesis 11 during the tower of Babel incident, though it appears God speaks to God’s self.) Divine speech is what brought the world into existence; for example, it was God’s utterance of “Let there be light” that created light. Through speech, God has ultimate power to create, to make covenants, and to birth a people.

This raises a number of questions. How is it that 10 generations can pass without Divine contact, and then suddenly, Abram hears the call? What was God’s role in the world in the intervening generations? Was God’s election of Abram blind, or had Abram displayed something that caused his election? (God’s election of Noah before is explained by saying that he was “a righteous man in his generation.”) We don’t know.

We can imagine, though, that

Abram had to be in the right frame of mind to hear God, and to go on the path laid out for him. Receipt of God’s blessing depended on an openness, a willingness to hear on the part of Abram. He also was not in motion when he received God’s command. Rather, he was stationed in one place, Haran. It was in the pause, in the break, that Abram was in a frame of mind to be in receipt of God’s word.

We each find ourselves on journeys, personal, professional, and spiritual. Yet, we often find ourselves in states of constant motion. When and how can we pause? How do we make space enough in ourselves to ensure that we are not part of one of the skipped generations, but rather one that can truly be present enough to hear what is being said to us? Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, makes no sound, but instead is said to be the sound before all other sounds. It is the pause in between. Aleph, which corresponds to the number one, also represents oneness and unity. How do we pause enough to be present in the oneness, in order for other sounds to flow, and for us to hear them when they do?

God no longer speaks to us directly, but we can still be in receipt of God’s Divine light. Recently, I was leading our weekly Sunday morning family minyan at Cong. Beth Tikvah when I realized that a number of the children and adults appeared checked out. I paused the service to explain that being in the right frame of mind for prayer is an incredibly difficult task; one that I, too, often struggle with. Sometimes, even when the Hebrew flows freely from my lips, even when I understand the meaning of the prayer, and even when I am focused on that meaning and its implications for me, I still don’t get to the right space to achieve true prayer and worship. Creating that space is tough. While it appeared easy for Abram, it is a learned spiritual practice for us.

So, I urge you to try and make that space for yourself. Pause. Breathe. Try and get yourself in a place where you can truly pray. Let yourself sink in to the mystery. Focus hard on the meaning of what is coming out of your mouth. Go to shul. Practice. Know that you will often fail, but that there is no shame in that. Lean in to the discomfort. Allow yourself to truly hear, and be a part of a generation that walks in God’s ways, rather than one of the skipped, silent, generations in between s

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