So, what is it about Abraham that has made his story endure for over 5000 years? How was he able to claim the title of “Father of the Jewish People?” The first line of Lech Lecha says “the Lord said to Abram, go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” What we don’t know is whether Abram was the first person that God instructed or one in a long line that received this critical communication. What we do know is that Abram heard and that Abram obeyed.
In his book “Callings,” Greg Levoy tells us that hearing a call and actually heeding the call are two distinctly different things. To begin with, for us to actually notice the still small voice that is guiding us, we need space within our lives to notice it. Amid emails, texts, Facebook, and literally hundreds of cable channels, deciphering the messages that are truly important can be like finding a needle in a haystack. According to Levoy, the practices that help us pay attention, are things like a daily journal, meditation, therapy, artwork, movement work, martial arts, dream interpretation, music, long walks, intimate conversation, retreats, fasting, rituals. Creativity writer, Julia Cameron, adds to this list the artist’s date…a commitment to a solitary artistic experience once every week.
These practices also remind us not to spend so much time awaiting big booming voices from on high that we stumble over the whispers that are right at our feet. “If you listen down below,” instructs the Torah, “you will deserve to hear from above.”
But, what happens when you do the work that is necessary to hear the call, but are frightened to take the next step? You register the caller ID, but refuse to actually pick up the phone? You listen to the message, but never return the call? As Levoy says, “you are terrified to swap security for your heart’s deepest desire.”
The key to answering the call is coming to terms with the understanding that accepting one path means giving up another. “Go forth,” God says to Abram, take leave, separate. It is the ending that comes with the beginning that must be grieved. And, it is the fear of relinquishing…whether it be a job, a relationship, a place, or simply an ideal…that typically prevents us from turning instructions into reality.
"To be blessed" literally means 'to be favored by God'. And, in the first few lines of Lech Lecha God uses the word bless no less than 5 times. Heed my call and you will be blessed. Follow my instructions and I will protect you. Don’t be afraid of what you are leaving behind, for what lies ahead will be worth the sacrifice. In essence, hearing the call requires some sort of contemplative practice and accepting what the call is asking you to do requires a leap of faith. To quote an old Cyndi Lauper song, “If you're lost, you can look and you will find me. Time after time. If you fall I will catch you, I'll be waiting. Time after time.”
According to the Etz Chayim Torah Commentary, a change of name in the Bible is of major significance. It symbolizes the transformation of character and destiny. As we witness Abram, the one who listened and responded, become Abraham, we realize that growth is possible at any age and that following a call is not an overnight affair, but an ongoing process.
So, back on J-date while I still may be a bit leery about Abram of Ur, Abraham of Canaan, now he may, indeed, deserve a second look.