God tells Abraham to leave his birthplace and travel to ‘the land which I will show you’. God does not tell Abraham where he’s going. And Abraham follows instruction – and goes on a journey, with no specifically instructed destination.
To me, this is the life that Judaism points to: a journey with no specific destination. There are directions to look in, goals to work towards. But, ultimately, life will lead us where it will. And our job, if we are to find happiness in its vagaries, is to humbly follow.
If I look at my life today, it would have been impossible for me to have dreamed it up twenty-five years ago. I would not have expected to be living in England. I would not have expected that my wife would have died, and I would have married someone so different. I would not have expected to be training rabbis. Life is so incredibly capricious. None of us know what is around the next corner. None of us know if the direction we are going in will ultimately lead us to meaningful destinations. But, by moving with, rather than fighting, the times, we give ourselves the best chance.
Here’s how I think we go on a journey with no specific destination. We look to see where it makes sense to go. In doing so, our deeper wisdom starts to guide us – as it always does if we are willing to listen. We sincerely and honestly orient ourselves in that direction. With a full heart. And then…we see how it goes. Usually, ‘God leads a person in the way they choose to go’ – and so, we will find success, accomplishment and meaning. But then, and for me this is the most important part, we remain very open to change and development. We don’t get stuck on a path from which we cannot and must not deviate. We are open to new possibilities, changes in ourselves and in the world, new wisdom and insight. And, likely, our direction will shift and change – not in a fickle or whimsical manner – but in a wise and mature manner.
In a similar vein, I wrote my first book around fifteen years go. Around five years ago I read through it again. And I was horrified! So much of what I had written no longer made sense to me. I had seen more in the ten intervening years. And so, life looked different. As I reflected, I was happy to have been horrified. It meant that I had grown, developed and, hopefully, become wiser.
How often do we feel bound to decisions we made ten, twenty years ago, even more? How often do we feel that we are who we are and cannot change? How often do we feel that new paths, new opportunities, new directions are not available to us? None of that has to be the case. A journey to God and to Truth is a journey with no destination. We live what makes sense to do each day, following our own inner compass. And God guides us as we go. Following Truth requires incredible flexibility. Because as our world changes, our response to it needs to change also. And our world changes very quickly nowadays. Putting ourselves into boxes might provide more security – but ultimately, putting ourselves in boxes leaves us ossified in the past; unable to respond to new opportunities and horizons that constantly come our way.
Parsha in a Nutshell
Abraham is told by God to leave his land. He doesn’t hesitate, appreciating that just because you don’t understand God’s reasons doesn’t mean he’s not right. Upon arrival in the land of Canaan, there is a famine and Abraham leaves for Egypt, again understanding something fundamental: if you go with God, things will ultimately work out – but it will be in God’s timescale and way, not necessarily yours.
He returns to Canaan and wages war with a few of his servants against 4 powerful armies in order to free his nephew. With God on his side, how could he lose?
Abraham is blessed with a son, Yishmael – father of the Arab nations. He circumcises himself (must have had a steady hand for a 99-year-old, especially as he lived in the Bronze rather than Iron Age, so his knife would not have been as sharp) and his household is finally given tidings that another son will be born who will continue his legacy of awakening the world to Ethical Monotheism.