"To boldly go": on Lech Lecha and Star Trek
October 31, 2014
Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before. [Source]
If you're a Star Trek fan, just reading those words has probably caused the theme music to swirl wildly through your head.
(I've just revealed myself as a fan of Next Generation, since those are the opening lines of that second iteration of the show. In the original series, the opening lines referenced the Enterprise's "five-year mission," and closed "where no man has gone before." Among my college friends, it was common to whoop and cheer out loud when we heard Sir Patrick Stewart intone "no one has gone before.")
This week's Torah portion begins on a similar note. We're reading Lech-Lecha this week, which begins:
וַיֹּאמֶר ה' אֶל-אַבְרָם, לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ...
The Eternal said to Abram: "go forth from your land, your birthplace, your father's house, to the land that I will show you....
These are the voyages of the patriarch Abraham. (He'll inherit the extra syllable in this week's portion.) His continuing mission: to explore the ancient Near East, to seek out new tribes and new civilizations, and -- spiritually, at least -- to boldly go where no one had gone before.
Abraham is regarded as the first monotheist. Midrash holds that his father Terach was a maker of idols, and that young Abram knew them as false gods and smashed them in his father's workshop. (The same story appears in the Qur'an, as I've mentioned before.) In this week's Torah portion, God tells Abram to boldly go toward a destination which will be revealed as he gets there.
Abraham's travels show the importance of the journey. He displays emunah, faith and trust, by allowing himself to wander where God will take him. Jewish tradition holds that he was a paragon of hospitality whose tent was open to all comers. In that, he's not so different from the crew of the USS Enterprise -- though their wanderings aren't explicitly theological. Theirs is a secular humanist vision.
Abraham's descendants, too, will wander in what could be seen as a continuation of his voyages. (Judaism: The Next Generation.) Jewish tradition imputes meaning even to the wandering in the wilderness which the Israelites will endure after the Exodus from Egypt, and Moses' life too seems to be more about the journey than the destination. I think we're still on Abraham's journey of discovery.
I like to read the opening words of this week's parsha, "lech-lecha," not only as "go forth" but "go forth into yourself." Each of us is Abraham. Each of us is on a voyage of discovery. We're all always going wherever God will lead us. And we're all always exploring new worlds -- even if we're doing so internally, on emotional and spiritual planes, rather than in the vastness of the Gamma quadrant.
With gratitude to Joy Fleisig (@datadivajf) and Lee Weissman (@jihadijew) for the Twitter conversation which sparked this idea!