The ballots have been cast, the votes have been counted, a new president of the United States has been elected.
Many can barely get through the day, overwhelmed by a mix of grief, terror, and regret - envisioning what this new reality will mean for the future of our country. Others believe we are now on the road to our nation finally becoming "great” once again. The bitterness of the campaign bleeds like swaths of red and blue across the electoral map making one thing clear - we are a country deeply divided.
It feels easy for those on one side to castigate the other. Easy, yet useless, but for the momentary release of emotion it may offer. Whether we like it or not, we are in this together. There is no escaping each other.
So where do we go from here?
Parshat Lech Lecha, this week’s Torah portion, opens with God’s call to “Go forth.” I believe that combining two traditional understandings of the opening lines of this text offers us valuable guidance as we move forward after the election.
On one level, “lech lecha” can be understood as a call to an outward physical journey. Following this read of the text, God is summoning Avram to leave Haran - the place where he lived and had come to call home - and travel to Canaan - a place unknown to him. In Canaan, Avram will encounter people with customs, practices and beliefs vastly different from his own. It is this outward journey that allows Avram to later become a fierce and compassionate advocate for justice when he argues on behalf of Sodom and Gommorah. According to this read, it is by daring to venture beyond our own ways of living and thinking to encounter those with a different experience and understanding of the world that we may become, as the text promises Avram, a “blessing.”
On another level, “lech lecha” is a call to a journey within. The command “lech lecha” literally means "go to yourself." In this read, God is calling on an inward spiritual journey to examine his own views, beliefs and ideas - both those conscious and those residing beneath the surface. In this read, Avram is being summoned beyond the comfort of his current self-understanding, to go deeply into his own heart of hearts and encounter the mix of light and shadow that exists within.
In the context of this week’s election, Lech Lecha guides us to the complex and challenging work ahead. We are being called to embark on multiple journeys simultaneously. To travel both within and without to find the healing--and the future--we seek.
Lech Lecha calls us to breakdown the walls of insularity; to venture beyond the viewpoints and beliefs that we hold dear; to encounter people, places and understandings vastly different from our own. It is from the foundation of empathy that we can truly be, like our ancestor Avram, powerful advocates for righteousness and justice. The unique challenge of the journey outward is how to expand our understanding and compassion while at the same time fighting fiercely for the rights and protections we hold dear.
Lech Lecha calls us to journey inward as well. I believe that the change we are seeking will not come unless and until we - as individuals and communities - find ways to look deeply at our own unexamined views and beliefs and endure the discomfort of sitting with what we find. Lech Lecha as a call to self-examination asks us to feel into this moment and look honestly at ourselves so that we may venture beyond the well-trodden ground we've been traveling and move forward, like Avram, toward the Promised land.
These are the times when we most need our sacred stories. Our tradition is a lamp that can illuminate even the darkest places. This week, Parshat Lech Lecha summons us forth. The road ahead may be painful, scary and long. I pray that we may answer the call with open hearts, courage and faith and, in so doing, we may each become the blessing we all so desperately need.