With this post, I'm all caught up; from here on out, I'll try to repost my Radical Torah commentary each week as the parshiyot unfold, but won't have to make multiple RT posts in a single week again. Thanks for bearing with me -- and thanks to those who emailed me to say that RT was down and that you missed these commentaries; that means a lot.
Here's what I wrote about last week's portion for Radical Torah in 2006.
"Go you forth," "Go out of your land" (or maybe "Go to yourself") -- so begins this week's parsha, Lekh Lekha. God calls Abraham forth to leave what's familiar and comfortable to him -- his origin, his roots, his old patterns of behavior and belief -- and to venture forth into an unknown world, to journey toward the place where God will bring him. Through this journey, God promises, he will make of Abraham a blessing.
This took place, the text tells us, when Abraham was 75 years old. No spring chicken, Abraham. When God deemed him good and ready, then the call came. We may not hear so direct an exhortation in our own spiritual lives, but who could fail to be moved by the notion that when we have matured as far as we can on our own, God calls us forth to venture into a new phase of becoming? The whole human process of growing up is mirrored in Abraham's leap from the familiar into the unknown.
Of course, that's not the only way to read the beginning of the parsha. On the surface level, God instructs Abraham to leave his land, his birthplace, and his father's house -- to be a literal wanderer. God also instructs him, in at least in one Hasidic understanding, to leave his earthiness behind and to move into an entirely new state of consciousness.
The Meor Eynayim notes that Abraham, like Jacob and like Moses, is often called-to twice (think of that critical "Abraham, Abraham!" in the akedah narrative.) He argues that the two namings correspond to two aspects of the tzaddik, his earthly or embodied self and his elevated or "root" self. The use of a doubled name "is taken by the Meor Eynayim to reflect a deeper doubleness or duality: namely, his ability to be equally present, equally at home, in both the supernal, heavenly worlds and in this earthly, corporeal world," as Rabbi Jonathan Chipman writes.
We are called to be like Abraham: to trust in our Source as we journey through the wilds of our contemporary lives. And we are also called to live up, as best we can, to Abraham's apparent ability to transcend the dualism which suggests we are entirely separate from God. To hear, when our names are called, a doubled address that wakes us from complacency before offering a deep communication about who we really are.
Trying to hold on simultaneously to the notion that I am distant from God (which is borne out in my ordinary reality, in which self-consciousness depends on awareness of the boundaries that separate me from everything other-than-me) and to the notion that I am always already in a state of devekut with God's unity... well. It makes my brain hurt. I get that separation from God is necessary because it's the act of moving to overcome the separation that makes us who and what we are -- in that sense all of creation is an engine for teshuvah. But how can we live in boundaried reality, where duality is a necessary part of being, and in constant awareness that duality is illusory and all is One?
Like most important tasks, I'm not sure the work of integrating those two perspectives can ever be said to be "finished." Come to think of it, I'm not sure the kind of journey God invites Abraham (and, by extension, all of us) to take is ever "finished" either. Each one of us is always going forth from her land, the place of her birth, the house of her father. My land: the physical place where I feel at-home, the landscape I know intimately in every season, which in some sense I know best because I allow myself to leave and return. The place of my birth: my origin-point, physical and spiritual, the locus of my awakening. The house of my father: the interconnected web of my family, the community that shelters me and also allows me to reach beyond the limits of what's familiar and known.
Always leaving, always coming home. Our challenge is to fully inhabit the journey, to trust that we are being led forth for a reason, and to honor where we come from even as we relinquish attachment to who we've been. (And while we're at it, to be gracious and hospitable to strangers, to argue for the rights of the inhabitants of even our most squalid cities, and to cultivate the discernment that will allow us to hear God's call clearly.) Abraham's not an easy role model, but his story has a lot to teach us about how to make our own lives a blessing. To sanctify the experience, and the process, of always going forth into something new.