FIRST STEP (LECH LECHA)
It's not going to be easy.
All of your roadmaps are wrong.
That was another country:
those lakes have dried up
and new groundwater is welling
in places you won't expect.
You'll begin the journey in fog
destination unknown, impossible.
Don't be surprised by tears.
This right here is holy ground.
Take a deep breath and turn away
from cynicism and despair
listen to the voice from on high
and deep within, the one that says
I'm calling you to a place
which I will show you
and take the first small step
into the surprising sun.
November 4, 2008
In this week's portion, Lech Lecha, God tells Abram to go forth from his native land and his father's house to the land which God will show him. It's a story about setting out on an unimaginable journey. Abram's road won't be easy; he doesn't know where he's going; he's doing something almost unthinkable, leaving everything that's familiar to him on levels both physical and metaphysical. But he has faith that God is leading him to a good destination, and he trusts that the journey will bring blessings.
I wrote this poem yesterday, in a kind of anticipatory fugue state that already feels like a dream. As I wrote it, I wondered how posting it today would feel. I couldn't have imagined what it would really feel like to watch Barack Obama win the presidency of the United States. Today I am so filled with hope, so overflowing with joy -- and the message in this week's parsha rings even more true for me.
Some commentors translate the first phrase of this week's portion, lech-lecha, not as "go forth (from your native land)" but "go forth from yourself." Extend yourself, reach beyond yourself. Strive for something greater than yourself. Take the risk of opening yourself to change. Reading these lines this week, I feel like my entire nation is recapitulating this first step on Abraham's journey. We're going forth from our origins to a land which the Holy Blessed One will help us find...or shape, right here at home.
Because lech-lecha doesn't have to refer to a physical journey. It can mean the journey we're all taking, singly and together, toward a place of plenty; a place of prosperity; a place of hope. The historic change we witnessed (we co-created) yesterday is the first step on a journey toward an America which says Yes we can to justice and equality. Yes we can to opportunity and prosperity. Yes we can heal this nation. Yes we can repair this world. Yes we can.
May we be blessed in this journey, and may the journey itself be a blessing.
Edited to add: this poem is now available in 70 faces, my collection of Torah poems, published by Phoenicia Publishing, 2011.