Dear Mom and Dad,
By the time you read this letter, Sarai and I, and our nephew Lot, will be well on our way to the land of Canaan. I wanted to say goodbye to you personally, but couldn’t figure out how to tell you we were leaving and not coming back. I love you dearly and would never do anything to hurt you.
Why are we leaving? The short answer is that God told me to leave. I know that may sound strange to you, but for some time now I have had a strong feeling that I didn’t belong here. Don’t get me wrong. Haran is a beautiful city and I have enjoyed living here, but it has never been home.
I remember when we left Ur, you told me that one of the reasons we had to go was that it never felt like home. At the time, I couldn’t understand it because it was the only place I had ever known. But now I get it. It is not about where you are born or where you have lived the longest. It is about where you feel you belong, and I just never have felt that I belong here.
I am sure you remember the day a few years ago that you left me alone in your idol shop. At first, I was so proud that you trusted me and gave me the responsibility. I really thought that I could do a good job, but when the first person came into the store I realized that my heart wasn’t in it. And then, well, you remember what happened. I don’t know what came over me, but before I realized what I was doing all of the idols were smashed except for the biggest one. And I felt so good. You were so much more understanding than I expected you to be. Maybe you knew then what it took me much longer to discover.
I remember those stories you used to tell me as a young child about the struggles of the gods Marduk and Tiamat. I was so intrigued by those tales and wanted you to tell me more. At some point, though, I realized that they were just stories. And later I realized that the idols were just pieces of stone. Everyone around me continued to be intrigued by those stories and enthralled with the idols but they just didn’t speak to me anymore.
At first, I thought that there was something wrong with me and I really tried to continue to believe, but my heart wasn’t in it. For a long time I just felt empty and I didn’t think that there was any “being” out there and thought that we were it. I just laughed at those people who bought their little idols, set them up in their homes or stores, and trusted that they would protect them. And then, when something awful happened, they thought it was because they had the wrong idol and would buy a different one. I shook my head.
But soon I felt that something was missing. I would sit up late at night and gaze at the stars and wonder how everything came into being.
“Who created the heaven and the earth and me?” I wondered.
Maybe it was the sun that created everything, I thought. But when the sun set at the end of the day, I knew it could not be the sun. Perhaps the moon and stars, I thought. But they disappeared during the day. Still, I soon came to realize that it couldn’t all be by chance; there had to be someone behind it all, some being that we couldn’t see that must be there.
Of course, I couldn’t tell anyone; they would just laugh at me. “A God you cannot see! That’s ridiculous.”
I felt so all alone, like I no longer belonged here. I guess that is when I first began hearing a voice within me saying, Lech l’cha, “Go! Get out of here.”
I tried to ignore it at first. Where would I go? But each day it grew a little stronger. “Lech l’cha—Go for your own sake! Lech l’cha—Go to your roots/discover who you really are.” Pretty soon it didn’t seem so crazy after all.
And then I remembered. When we left Ur, we were headed to the land of Canaan. That was where we were supposed to end up. For some reason—I don’t think you ever told me—we stopped in Haran and settled here. No wonder I felt like I never belonged.
And that is when I knew that I had to leave. I had to complete the journey we had started. I had to set out for the land of Canaan.
I was so excited and couldn’t wait to tell you. You and I and Sarai and Lot and the rest of our family could make the journey together. But then I realized that perhaps I was meant to go to Canaan and not you. I struggled with this thought for many days. A couple of times I almost blurted out my plans wanting to beg you to go with me. But each time something stopped me.
And then I just knew that it was my moment, my journey, my lech l’cha.
That was just a week ago. I didn’t tell anyone, not even Sarai. I began preparing for our trip; you might have noticed a few things missing from around the house.
I should have been sad. After all, I was leaving you and the rest of the family and this place where we have lived. But I wasn’t sad. And that’s when I knew I had made the right decision.
I never went to bed last night. After you and mom were asleep, I woke up Sarai and told her to get dressed. She was confused at first and didn’t want to go. But then she saw the look in my eyes and knew that it was futile to argue. We then woke up Lot and our servants. After that I placed this letter on the kitchen table we took off.
Please don’t be angry with me. I hope you understand why I can’t stay here and had to make this journey.
And know this: unless you had set out from Ur to go to Canaan, I wouldn’t have been able to do what I am doing. That was the beginning; I am only finishing what you started.
Who knows how it will end up? But I have never been more certain in my life that this is the right thing to do. You will always be with me.
I love you,
Rabbi Bruce Kadden is the rabbi at Temple Beth El, Tacoma, Washington. Rabbi Kadden and his wife, Barbara Binder Kadden, RJE, have written extensively in the area of Jewish education, including co-authoring three books: Teaching Mitzvot: Concepts, Values and Activities; Teaching Tefilah: Insights and Activities on Prayer; and Teaching Jewish Life Cycle: Traditions and Activities.
Each of us has a Jewish journey full of experiences, people, and moments that have affected and changed our perception and connection to Judaism. While some of these may have been more enjoyable or memorable than others, the collection of Jewish experiences and moments in each of our lives have changed us and Reform Judaism as a whole.
In this week’s parashah, Abram hears the words “Lech l’cha,” which can be translated as, “Go forward for your own sake!” After remembering his past, Abram courageously seizes his opportunity in the present in order to fulfill and complete his destiny, his Lech l’cha.
Each one of us has opportunities to rise up, just as Abram did, and seize our own moments in Judaism. But when will those opportunities arise that can change our Jewish lives? We will never know the spiritual moments or relationships we are missing out on if we do not step outside of our comfort zones to seize the opportunities waiting for us. All of us need to allow ourselves to seize the moment and become inspired through Reform Jewish experiences. By stepping outside of our comfort zones and attending a Temple event that we have never been to before, or having a conversation with someone who just joined the congregation, we are creating our own destiny in Judaism. Lech l’cha, Go forward and seize your own moment in your Jewish journey.
Evan Traylor serves as the NFTY President for the 2012–2013 year. He has been a member of Temple B’nai Israel in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and attends the University of Kansas.
Lech L’cha, Genesis 12:1-17:27
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 91-117; Revised Edition, pp. 88-117;
The Torah: A Women's Commentary, pp. 59-84