God gives Abraham a compass to travel to the land God provides and to be a blessing, to follow the path. Yet Abraham hesitates.
(photo credit: ILLUSTRATIVE: REUTERS)
We feel Noah’s pain. Everything around us is sinking. Terrorist attacks steal lives and hold our hearts ransom. We see our Palestinian neighbors shooting, stabbing and running over civilians and soldiers alike. We see Jews emulating the worst of our neighbors’ violence and hate. Fears for our children’s physical well-being hold our hearts captive, even as our own moral rudders are being sucked into a meaningless, watery vortex.
We are at once disoriented and myopic, the challenges around us like giant waves blocking the sea and sky from view, blinding our senses of moral and physical orientation.
Yes, we feel Noah’s pain. Even post-flood – or maybe especially post-flood – when the dove, brings the news of dry land, the stabbing pain intensifies. And in response to a new, overpowering helplessness and anger, Noah himself finally drowns, this time on dry land and of his own doing – in drunkenness. He numbs the shock, the sorrow, the raw, exposed mortality of every living being.
God’s words at this time are ironic or maybe davka – a necessary glimmer of what is eternal in the mass grave that is the earth. Either way, God, for the first time, directly tells a person that he is made in the divine image: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God, God made the human being.”
“Okay, God,” one can imagine Noah saying with a hiccup. “You get to say whatever you want, but all experience, everything I have seen – the images flooding my mind and breaking my heart – are the opposite of eternity and possibility. All I remember is waste, and waste is the opposite of holiness.”
But now, in Lech Lecha, we find a restart of humanity and the beginning steps of the Jewish people.
Now the Lord said unto Abram: “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto the land that I will show thee. And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing. And I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse; and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:1-3).
God, in a sense, gives Abraham a compass. Here is where you must physically go (the land I will show you), here is your mission (to be a blessing) and I will be your partner and guide on your journey. No more all-consuming, disorienting torrents of water and seas. A path.
And yet Abraham is blinded by a seeming failing on God’s part. When Sarah does not yet become pregnant, Abraham doubts God’s promise. And of all the promises God made, despite the grand mission Abraham shares with God, this lack of a child is all Abraham can see. This terrifies him because all of God’s promises are dependent on that one. So desperate is Abraham for assurance – for an answer – that, according to rabbinic lore, he consults an astrologer who, indeed, tells him that he will not have progeny.
The midrash has Abraham confronting God. “‘Master of the Universe, I looked in the sign of the zodiac that guides my destiny and found that I am not destined to have a son.’ The Holy One had Abraham go up above the vault of the firmament.
God said, ‘He who is placed below the stars is afraid of them. But you who are placed beyond them – hold your head high at the sight of them.’” We cannot see beyond the terrorism, and that can blind and burn us with the salt water of oceans and tears and make us, like Noah, disoriented and, like Abraham who could only fear the failure of one promise, myopic.
Like Abraham we, too, must allow God to show us the vault of the firmament, where the petty revenge cycle will fall away and the purpose of our people – seeking peace, pursuing justice, being God’s partners in making the world better – will shine before us.
The writer is a rabbi who lives in Jerusalem with her husband and five children. She is co-author of Jewish Family & Life: Traditions, Holidays and Values for Today’s Parents and Children (Golden Books), founder of JustAdopt.net and active on behalf of asylum- seekers and Jewish pluralism. Twitter: @justadopt and @rabbasusan