Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
Our rabbis have played with the meaning of this week’s opening line of Torah, “Lech Lecha,” translating God’s entreaty to Abraham as: “Go; be gone from here” — move forward, make the leap, take a risk, or “Go to yourself” – move in, deeper, closer to your authenticity, or even, “Go for yourself” – strike out on an independent path for the sake of your own development. At the end of the period of our contemplative focus during the Days of Awe, we can add: “Lech Lecha” – “Get up and go!” Leave the sanctuary and put whatever you’ve reflected upon into action.
This year, my first action, after emerging from the great womb of the High Holidays, birthed anew, as our closing Yom Kippur liturgy suggests is, paradoxically, to return home to my father’s house. I will undertake to dismantle what remains of his considerable library, pending the sale of my parents’ apartment due to a change in my mother’s health status. When the task is complete, I will leave my father’s house, concretely, for the very last time. What has lingered of his aura in the physical objects assembled in those rooms will be disbursed, the tangible concentration of his energy, that has persisted seventeen years past his death, distributed differently in the universe.
I’ve left home many times, sometimes without care, sometimes with difficulty, sometimes in defiance, each an age-appropriate leave-taking that has differentiated me so that I have become more and more of who I am meant to be, each time with the courage to enact my own destiny and my own unique contributions with more independence and self-confidence. But until now, some semblance of what I’ve left has remained for me to revisit at will. Now, in the week of Parashat Lech Lecha, I must internalize my father’s home so that I carry it with me as I depart, one final time. I am sure that this is the meaning of growing up.
I wonder if the Torah, in her psycho-spiritual wisdom offers Lech Lecha as an invitation to ongoing developmental maturation, and whether what is asked of me is to complete the task of enshrining my father’s home inside myself as I move through a new, adult version of rapprochement, in the ongoing emergence and unfolding of self.
On this visit, I hope to review the books recognizing what I have taken from them by reading them or hearing about them, and by deeply knowing the man absorbed in them for so many formative years. It might be meaningful to keep track of where they are going and the communities they will benefit. As I empty the shelves, I will be forced to concede that I will not have the opportunity to assimilate as much of the library’s wisdom as I’d like. I will have to admit to squandering precious time, taking this particular curation of ideas for granted, just as I took for granted my father’s presence in the world, failing to welcome all of who he was and all he offered to me.
We turn our study of Torah over and over, potentially gleaning from her what we need to learn each year. This year, my Lech Lecha learning is a deeper awareness of what it means to leave home without rejecting one’s origins. This year I will be differently tested to venture forth, still able to return to the home of my father as it continues to exist. I will be in his home in the resonance of his voice singing inside my own voice, in his presence under my tallis, magically expanding onto a cathedral of prayer, when I see his handwriting in the margin of a book I have inherited, when I look out at my congregation and hear him whisper, “Remember to meet them where they are, Hannah.”