Friday, October 19, 2018

Parashat Lekh Lekha: Movement

Thoughts on Lekh Lekha 2018
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Is there a man who travels and does not know to what destination he travels? (Midrash)[1]
He who has attained to only some degree of freedom of mind cannot feel other than a wanderer on the earth – though not as a traveler to a final destination: for this destination does not exist. (Friedrich Nietzsche)[2]
I love to travel but I hate to arrive. (Albert Einstein)[3]
We read about Avraham’s initial journey at the end of Parashat Noah:                   
And Terah took Avram his son and Lot son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, the wife of his son Abrahm, and he set out with them from Ur Casdim toward the land of Canaan… (11:31)
His travel contrasted with the Torah’s preceding episode of Migdal Bavel:
…And it happened as they journeyed from the East they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there … And they said, “Come, let us build us a city and a tower with its top in the heavens that we may make us a name, lest we be scattered over all the earth.” (11:2,4)
Unlike his surrounding society’s attempt to settle, Avraham was determined to move.

Parashat Lekh Lekha continues the story of Avraham’s journeys, as God then commanded that he “Go forth” from his familiar habitat toward a land which He would show (12:1). Avraham’s life as a journeyman had thus begun. He soon descended to Egypt during famine (12:10), fulfilled God’s repeated commands of “Rise, walk about the land” (13:17) and “Walk in My presence and be blameless” (17:1), and ultimately rose to the occasion of “Go forth to the land of Moriah” (22:2). Significantly, it was upon these very paths that Avraham encountered God. In a constant search for the Almighty during his lifetime, Avraham would find Him – learning about God’s ways and understanding His essence – along those desolate trails of his travels.

How did Avraham’s “journeys into the unknown” lead him to God?

Consider the recurrent theme of movement in many of our common expressions regarding thought: We “let our thoughts wander,” while “thinking on our feet” and “arriving at a conclusion.” John Kaag explained: “These are no simple figures of speech, but reflect a type of mental openness that can be achieved only on the move.” Noting the words of the eighteenth-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “I never do anything but when walking, the countryside is my study,” Kaag remarked: “The history of philosophy is largely the history of thought in transit.”[4]

By marching away from the world that he knew and into one that he did not, Avraham’s eyes and mind were opened to a greater understanding of God and His world. R. Zvi Grumet elaborated:
Abram’s search for the place is not a test of his obedience to God, it is an essential element of how he will become who he will become. The search for, and ultimately the discovery of, the land, is empowering. Abram is not shown the land; he must figure out how to discern it.[5]
Indeed, even prior to any specific instruction from God, he had detected the mistake of the builders of Migdal Bavel. He understood that their passion for stability would lead to a stagnant life of stunted growth. And so, he began a life of discovery through movement.

Avraham’s life teaches us about the importance of constant movement in our lives. It shows that the hidden aspects of life can only be found upon the paths of our personal journeys of lekh lekha.

[1] Tanhumah: Lekh Lekha 3.
[2] Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits (Cambridge, UK, 1986), pg. 203.
[3] Recalled by John Wheeler, in Albert Einstein: His Influence on Physics, Philosophy and Politics (Braunschweig, GE, 1979), pg. 202.
[4] John Kaag, Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are (New York, NY, 2018), pg. 27. See there, as well, pg. 132-4.
[5] R. Zvi Grumet, Genesis: From Creation to Covenant (New Milford, CT, 2017), pg. 134.