I was given the assignment of writing a d'var Torah for this week's portion, Lech Lecha. The question posed to me was "How is God speaking to you through Torah, what is the message, and how can you incorporate this into your personal and professional life?" Here is some of what I said in response -- along with some of the wisdom I gleaned from my classmates in the discussion which followed.
God says to me: go forth from your land, your birthplace, your father's house, to the land that I will show you...and I will bless you; your name shall be a blessing.
When I was seventeen, I left San Antonio, Texas, for a small town in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. I wasn't consciously on a holy journey, but my collegiate adventure was a rollercoaster of individuation and self-discovery.
In college I found my first tribe, a circle of geeks and geniuses and oddballs who became chosen family for one another. I began to explore my desire to help others. (My freshman year I hung a little placard on my door, mimicking Lucy in the comic strip Peanuts. The card read, on one side, "The Doctor is Out" and on the other, "The Doctor is In.")
At nineteen, I realized I wanted to become a rabbi... but I turned away from the rabbinate, fearful that my various unorthodoxies would disqualify me for service. Like Avram, who lied about his relationship with Sarai in order to avoid Abimelech's potential wrath, I have sometimes hidden parts of myself or parts of my life because I have feared the consequences of visibility.
And now, like Avraham (whose name was changed by God; some say that the extra ה in his name represents the presence of Shekhinah)—like Avraham, I need to let those old patterns go.
I understand where Avram was coming from. He was afraid. Abimelech had power and he did not. It was easy to pretend to be someone else. But that wasn't fair to Sarai, and it wasn't fair to Abimelech, either.
Before he could become Avraham, the father of nations whose name bears witness to divine Presence, Avram had to come to terms with the obligation to be his whole self. To own up to his relationships and his wholeness, even if that put him at risk.
Allowing myself to be wholly seen feels dangerous. I worry about how others will respond...and I worry about what else God might ask of me. God asked Avraham to inscribe covenant on the bodies of his sons. I don't want my loved ones to suffer because of my choices and my promises.
But another way to read that piece of the story is to say that more unveiling is coming, and unveiling can be joyful, because it's an opportunity to choose not to hide. And it may be that others already see me more deeply than I realize, and that my real challenge is to remove my veils so that I can see myself more clearly.
God is calling me forward. And I need to live up to the new name I'm about to receive. In order to become the rabbi I'm meant to be, I need to integrate all of who I am. Torah reveals our ancestors even with their faults; in this story, we see Avraham in-process, and that gives us permission to be in-process, too.
This is my work. When I stop hiding, I can help others do the same. God is always calling us forth. When I can own up to all that I am, covenant will follow, and God will make my name a blessing.