This week's parashah / Torah portion opens with the rather peremptory divine command: וַיֹּ֤אמֶר ה' אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵֽאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ
"God said to Avram: get yourself out from your country, from your homeland and from your father's house to the country I will show you."
No, "hi, my name is . . . ." No, "I've got an interesting opportunity for you." Not even an "Ahum, let me introduce myself . . . ."
Just "get up and go."
As stunning as God's opening to Avram is, the patriarch's response is even more breathtaking:
So, Avram got up and went as God commanded . . . and took with him his nephew Lot and his wife Sarai and all their possessions . . . .
For this tremendous act of faith, our tradition lauds Avram (at the end of this week's Torah reading, re-named Avraham / Abraham) as "the faithful servant of God." In this week's haftarah, God refers to Avram as "my friend." Over and over, we will see Avram/Avraham respond unquestioningly and with alacrity to every command of God's save for one: to warn the residents of S'dom and Amorrah that they are facing destruction. At that moment, Avraham, the faithful, unquestioning servant, challenges God's judgment.
But at this moment of "you don't know Me, but get up and leave everything and everyone you know and I'll make you a great nation" Avram simply does. And we hear no protest from his wife, Sarai either. The text leaves room for us to posit that they may have been of one mind. Getting up, going, not knowing to where.
We need to pause for a moment in the narrative to appreciate the depth of courage this took: My son and daughter-in-law, both raised in Israel in bi-lingual homes, moved to the States over the summer so that my son could go to graduate school. Aryeh and Michal both speak and read English. They've both visited the States to meet American relatives. They knew before they landed that they had a maternal back-up-system in place should anything go awry. and yet, I watch the irm confront all sorts of cultural challenges. Things are just done differently. Organizations work differently. People's expectations of exchanges are not the same.
Aryeh and Michal are way ahead of the game of cultural transition compared to Avram and Sarai: Aryeh and Michal spoke the language, could look up New Hampshire on a map, had a welcoming committee at the airport . . . Avram and Sarai simply left home and had no idea where they were going and what would happen to them. And yet they left.
Lots of people have faith. Few of us who describe ourselves as people of faith would be willing to simply place our fate and future, and the well-being of our families in the hands of the Unseen.
When I moved into a new neighborhood in Beit HaKerem, Jerusalem, when I became the rabbi of the Masorti congregation there, I became friends with my upstairs neighbors: the American basketball player Billy Thompson, his wife and young children. Billy was playing basketball for the Jerusalem Ha'Poel team at the time. Having a 6ft. 7in. upstairs neighbor was very handy when it came to building my Sukkah!
Billy and his wife are passionate Christians. Their faith is very deep. When Billy's unrenewable contract with Ha'Poel expired, he and his wife prepared to return to the States. He had no offer from his previous NBA team or any other. We were having coffee one day and I asked: "Aren't you nervous? Just packing up and going back to the States with no job? No means of supporting yourselves?"
With perfect calm and tranquility Billy replied: "God will show us where we are to go and what we are to do." This wasn't a sound byte for a Christian radio station, this was the way these people lived their lives. I found myself wondering if, under similar circumstances, I would be as sanguine about placing my life and the lives of my family members in God's hands.
Avram and Sarai (and Billy and his wife, for that matter) found that stepping out into the unknown and trusting to God to show them the way to a fulfilling and meaningful life worked out just fine. Perhaps opening ourselves to a little of that kind of faith will enrich and deepen our own lives . . .
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.