Yesterday I was speaking with a member of our congregation about my work. She said to me, it has to be so hard, with so many opinions, its tough work that you do. I told her that most of the time I do not encounter a tremendous amount of diversity in opinion. However, when I do, that is when I know that I have stumbled upon something that is meaningful. That type of work, when you have people that you care about who disagree, when you have tough choices between shared values, that work is hard, but it is necessary and rewarding. I told her that if I do not find myself doing that work often enough, then I am probably not doing the important things in my job, the things that need real attention. I also reflected that the things I am most proud of here at KI, are the result of tough choices and difficult dilemmas, things that were not universally celebrated when they began.
This week in our Torah portion Abram is asked to leave his birthplace to go out into a new land. Abram faces a series of tests. What makes these true tests of Abram, his faith, and his character, is that there is not just one right answer. Let us examine the most famous of all his tests – the binding of Isaac. Listen to God and sacrifice your son or disobey God, reject your faith, and save your son. Not exactly a clear choice between right and wrong.
The Jewish tradition and its set of religious laws (found in the Talmud the code of Jewish life dating to around 600CE) is full of these types of tests, or what we might call in our time enduring dilemmas. Some of them seem philosophical – like when we are commanded to say the shema “when we lie down” does that mean at night or does that mean when we are lying down? There are others have deep meaning and consequences – like what exactly is self-defense? The understanding of how we decide between choices that are the foundation for our religious life and our modern tests.
Lech Lecha, means go out from yourself, Go out to a land that God will show you. It is the command given to Abram and Sarai to become the first Jewish couple, to create the first Jewish home. It is a command that can be instructive to us as we face difficult decisions, one in which we see our values on both sides of the choices in front of us. Go out from yourself. When you face a difficult decision between competing goods, can you remove your own self-interests? What is the path that will provide the most good for others?
Lech Lecha – Go to a land that I will show you. When you face a difficult decision between competing goods, can you envision the outcome, which outcome crates a future that resonates with you, your family, and your work, which outcome follows the vision or mission of the organization you are a part of? The vision of the life you want to lead.
Our lives are filled with tests, with complicated decisions about how we spend our time, how we spend our money, how we do our work, and how we refrain from it. This Shabbat we learn from Lech Lecha that the real choices, the hard ones, the ones that actually move us forward in a significant way are ones that involve risk and debate. What might it have been like for Abram and Sarai to leave everything they knew to start something new? What was it like to argue for Sodom and Gomorrah? These stories and the tests they face, remind us that tests are necessary in life, and often, when we look back at them, the risks we took make all the difference.
Rabbi Stacy Eskovitz Rigler