Abraham was a traveler on a liberating path marked by potholes. He was commanded by God: “Lech lecha. Go. Go to yourself. Leave who you were behind, everything and everyone you’ve known.” (Genesis 12:1, paraphrased) God’s command is deeply personal. And each time we, Abraham’s children, revisit that divine imperative, it plunges us yet again into an unknown future. More than that: The sacred call to journey forth is accompanied, every time, by real risk, and without the fortifying mixture of faith and trust — faith that the future might hold blessing, trust that the loss of the familiar is worth the risk — we stand to lose ourselves as we seek ourselves.
The essential question, then, is: How do we cultivate the necessary faith and trust for the curved path ahead? In an ever-changing world defined by string theory’s truths of pervasive impermanence, proof that even solids slowly and inexorably vibrate and change, in what might we place our faith? Given the vulnerability of the very earth we call home, how can we trust that the ground upon which we stand will endure?
Our answer, one possibility among many, is a sacred prescription for life: Be brave. Take a deep breath in. Breathe it out. Look into the eyes of the next person you see, and imagine that the image of the divine is what they see in yours. Every human connection holds the possibility of deepening our faith in the future, despite its unknowability. Yes, we may be disappointed, but every new friend is a promise, every relationship an investment. Faith in each other is the way forward. Without that faith, we revert to the lonely state that caused God’s realization: “it is not good for a person to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18)
Lech lecha is a call to each of us: Begin the journey. Sacred discovery is the way: Go forth together. Encounter loss; encounter birth. Be the individual you are and that you are meant to be. Unfold. Share your intense self, that holy spark, with another, and then another, until the light emanating from every soul illuminates the world.
God tells Abram (Abraham’s name before the establishment of the covenant) to trust, to set out. But who is Abram to be selected in the first place? What makes any one of us worthy to be entrusted with the future? The biblical text offers little explanation of Abram’s background, his personal qualities, that which made him deserving of such attention. And so the rabbis, in typical fashion, embellish the story, perhaps revealing some of their own sacred discontent with staying still. (Just as likely, the rabbis are making sense of their own exilic reality by finding creative ways of identifying forced Jewish rootlessness with Abraham’s blessed wanderings.) One such midrash suggests that, previous to the sacred call, Abram was like a corked bottle of perfume, outer calm concealing an inner disquiet. But with God’s disrupting call, Abram’s glorious scent emerges.
The blessing we each contain meets the air only when we, like Abraham, are in motion. Within us is enormous potential, waiting to be shared, waiting to infuse an uncertain future with unknown blessings. Even in those moments that hold us still, whether we are scared or at peace, the inner vibration of the human soul invites us forward.
With no covenant established yet, Abram displays the quality of someone who takes chances. And that first step is what our steps are every time we stop to consider: steps away from the safe and the sure.
Potholes are rarely celebrated. They appear, sometimes, to obstruct the liberating path paved before us — especially if we see them as stumbling blocks, a jolt rather than an indication of accumulated wisdom left by yesterday’s travelers. But the bumpiest road might also be the most potentially redemptive.
Rabbi Menachem Creditor is the spiritual leader of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, Calif., chair of Rabbis Against Gun Violence, and the author of And Yet We Love: Poems. He is a contributor to the Huffington Post and the Times of Israel.