Parashat Lech Lecha: Following the Calling
God, as a character in the Torah, takes on many forms. In the Garden of Eden, God is described as “walking about the garden.” (Genesis 3:8) In Exodus, we see a depiction of God as a burning bush. We even see God revealing God’s back to Moses in the same book. But of all of these diverse depictions of the way in which God interacts with human beings, few are as relatable as what we find in Torah portion לך לך, even if sometimes we aren’t fully listening.
At the outset of the Torah portion, we find God speaking to Avram, who we had met through the genealogy of the previous chapter. God, seemingly out of nowhere, comes to Avram and says “Lech Lecha, Go forth from your native land, from the house of your father, to the land that I will show you.” (Gen. 12:1) We have no record of prior conversations between Avram and God. Out of the blue, both textually and, it would seem, narratively, God requests dramatic action on the part of Avram, and Avram complies.
It is no small feat that Avram leaves the land that he knows so well in pursuit of the lofty promises God makes. We hear nothing of Avram’s response to being called except his compliance, jumping right to the action he takes in leaving. He doesn’t argue, he doesn’t ask questions. He gets to work transporting his wife and his nephew and all of his possessions to the unknown future upon which Avram is hanging all of his hopes. It would make sense if Avram was moving on from a land in which he had seen difficulty. Sure, there is some evidence of family trauma; Avram’s brother had died before his father, a note from the text that must have some significance for how it would impact our understanding of Avram’s character. But Avram seems to be doing quite well for himself at the time when God tells him it is time to move. God hasn’t even told Avram where it is he will be going, and yet Avram uproots himself and all that is his and moves according to God’s transmission.
If a friend was to come to you one day and say they were moving across the country, across the world because God told them that they would prosper there, you’d probably ask after their mental faculties. We don’t take kindly, in our modern society, to claims that God has given us instructions, at least not in the literal sense. But when we expand a little bit, broaden our perception, we actually know all-too-well the feeling of being “called,” and the feelings we experience when we perceive as though our future depends on our willingness to comply with our understanding of what we are being told.
Those who compiled the Torah knew something innate within themselves. They knew that there was a hint of holiness contained within their person, centered right in their very identity. In the first chapter of Genesis, we read that, “God said, ‘Let us make humanity in Our image, after Our likeness.” (Gen. 1:26) It is fundamentally ingrained in our creation narrative that there is an element of holiness embedded in our identity as human beings, and this bears out with any inspection of human dignity. We can feel within ourselves the call to righteous action, the need to conduct ourselves with integrity. We know well the sense of joy that comes with seeing the beauty of someone else’s soul reflected against our own, and we know the unnamable suffering that comes with delivering pain to the essential humanity of another person. The voice inside of our minds speaks to us, guiding us on our path to ethical behavior, to moral engagement. No, this is not God speaking to us prophetically, but it most certainly is a process of maintaining a relationship with the innate part of the human soul that is created in the Divine Image, that gives us a connection to the core of belief and spiritual connection.
Through this lens, we have the chance to see Avram’s calling in a very different way, a way that feels far more accessible and relatable. For who among us hasn’t experienced what happens when the voice of reason, of higher calling reaches out and guides us along the way? Sometimes this comes in the form of inspiration, guiding our actions to create something of beauty. Sometimes this is an alarm bell, alerting us that there is something in our environment that is threatening our well-being and demanding change. Sometimes it is the Still Small Voice that whispers in our ear: life can be better than this. Go forth. Find the right path.
To this point, there have been 11 chapters in the Torah, and none of them has overtly referenced anyone that Jews would claim as their own. Avram becomes the Patriarch of the People of Israel, the first individual who carries the weight of covenant with God. And truth be told, Abraham, as he becomes later on, is not perfect. He demonstrates character flaws just as all the other human beings who have preceded him in the narrative. He is zealous in his behavior to a fault, he has a strange set of priorities on many occasions, and he does not always seem to believe that honesty is the best policy, at least not in his understanding of geopolitics. In this way, we, as modern readers, should not learn that we should jump at every whim that we perceive as a divine calling. There are plenty of actions, inspired by gut reactions, that need to be evaluated, processed, reflected upon, in order to create a healthy lifestyle. Avram’s willingness to pursue God’s promise is not an instruction to put blind faith in God.
If Noah taught us anything last week, it was that we cannot let the perfect get in the way of the good, especially when it comes to judging ourselves and those we admire. Avram heard a calling from God, telling him that a relationship with holiness would lead to prosperity, fertility, and bounty. He was willing to accept the calling offered to him, and was able to move forward into a promised land, one that would not only benefit himself in this generation, but would pave the way for generations to come. We, too, have an obligation to keep our ears open for those times when the voice of God calls to us, telling us that beauty and blessing are just around the corner.
There are times in our lives when we can see that something profound is about to happen. Sometimes it occurs to us in the moment, sometimes not until much afterward. These linchpin moments can be the impetus for a change of job, a change of location, a change in relationships. These moments are what give us the full understanding of the context of our lives, for the full understanding of our truest selves. Lech Lecha reminds us to be hyper aware of these moments in which God calls to us, pointing us in the right direction. Sometimes it comes in the form of words from a trusted loved one, pointing us in the right direction. Sometimes it comes in the form of our own instincts, demanding that we heed the change that is required for us to be our most honest selves. Sometimes it comes in the form of a question, so small and unassuming in the back of our minds, yet insistent, demanding that we engage and move forward.
Our inner voices of wisdom call us to all kinds of adventures, all kinds of choices. We are told, Lech Lecha, Go forth, to a land we do not know, but to a land that promises beauty, holiness, and a relationship with God and our truest selves.