Rabbi Sydni's Shabbat Sermons
פרשת לך-לך, תשפ״א
Parshat Lekh-L'kha, 5781
by Rabbi Sydni
Saturday, October 31st, 2020
Be a Blessing on Your Journey
Rabbi Feivel and I just arrived home from our road trip to Boise, Idaho and back - a mere 54 hours of driving, not including stops. Three days before our scheduled departure, we learned that our car would not be fixed in time for the trip, and we booked a rental. On the morning of our departure, we learned that no rental company within two hundred miles had a car big enough for our dogs and our luggage, and we abandoned a couple of suitcases. While the weather on the way to Boise was 70 degrees everywhere we went, perfect for hiking and otherwise exploring, our dogs discovered snow on the way back, and we ended up booking it home, through weather that spanned from 7 to 40 degrees. It was certainly a different travel experience than we had ever had before, as we schlepped face masks, hand sanitizer, and our own sheets and pillows for health and safety.
In the time of COVID and long before, travel has always had its frustrations. Towards the beginning of his commentary about this parashah that is literally entitled “Hey you...go!” (Lekh l’kha), the medieval commentator Rashi mentions that travel tends to cause three issues - (1) lessening of the ability to be fruitful and multiply, (2) lessening of money, and (3) lessening of name or status. Through the unexpected rental car costs, food, and the joy of traveling with pets, Rabbi Feivel and I definitely experienced that financial burden. As we stopped in gas stations in small towns throughout the West, wearing Star of David face masks, and for Feivel, a kippah and tzitzit, our identities were certainly called into question - on the way to and from my family’s home, we encountered no familiar faces. And if I can equate being fruitful and multiplying to general success, it was certainly jarring to stop working for a few weeks, while I was in the thick of several projects here at Agudath Achim.
And yet, just as God reminded Avram that he must go - lekh l’kha, our trip was both necessary and entirely worthwhile. It had been a year since I had seen my parents and brother, and it was miraculous to see how much this 14-year-old had matured and grown sure of himself in just that time. We saw some absolutely stunning scenery - sand dunes, waterfalls, mountains, and forests that alternated vibrant green and red and orange. My entire family laughed at the antics of our four dogs, and Rabbi Feivel and I were able to get the rest we needed to teach and to daven with our fullest selves after the High Holy Day season.
For all of the reasons Rashi mentions, it cannot have been easy for Avram to leave his birthplace to go to the land that God would eventually show him. But God assures Avram that he will experience blessing throughout his journey. Once he begins his travels, God says, ואעשך לגוי גדול ואברכך ואגדלה שמך והיה ברכה - I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great...now, be a blessing! (Genesis 12:2) For Rashi, God’s blessing addresses the three biggest issues of travel. “I will make you into a great nation” addresses that lack of being fruitful and multiplying. “I will bless you” addresses lack of money. And “I will make your name great” assures that even though he may not be known at first, eventually, Avram will merit a positive reputation in the land towards which he journeys. God reminds Avram, and God reminds us that although journeying may be rough, a journey often results in success and strengthened relationships.
For God, a happy journey cannot be enjoyed by the wanderer alone. After God promises that nation, blessing, and great name, God commands Avrahm, v’heyeh brakhah - be a blessing! Avram’s story has been shared throughout the generations not just because of the joy and success he experienced throughout his travels, but also because of the faithfulness and hospitality he practiced throughout as inspiration for generations to come. Avram was commanded to embody blessing. So too, I hope that through kibud av v’em (honoring my parents), through being present for my brother, and through the inspiration that comes from both natural beauty and an acceptable amount of sleep, I was able to use travel at least somewhat towards the aim of practicing blessing.
For many of us, travel is either unneccessary or not an option right now - we have all of our family in town, we live with someone who is high risk, our finances are just too tight, or otherwise. But for those of us who do take the time to travel in the coming months, especially as another holiday season looms closer, how can we best be a blessing wherever we find ourselves? That blessing can start with the simple precautions of wearing a mask and staying distant from those outside our households; we have the ability to protect our families and the families of our fellow travelers. We can stay patient with the employees at our hotels, gas stations, and airlines; these changes in travel practices are just as new for them as they are for us. We can support local businesses that are struggling to survive at this precarious time. And if we are traveling on our own, we can bring a notebook to write down bits of inspiration to bring back and share with others at our return.
Whether our journey is to the supermarket or nail salon for the first time in months or to family at the other end of the country, our liturgy provides us with a blessing for any travel that includes some level of risk or uncertainty. You or a friend may have these words inscribed on a key ring or an amulet dangling from your car mirror. I find that this intention for travel is now more pertinent than ever:
May it be Your will, Adonai our God and God of our ancestors, to lead us to peace, direct our steps to peace, guide us to peace, bring us to our desired destination in life, joy and peace, and (when we are returning soon) bring us back to our home in peace. Rescue us from any enemy or ambush on the way, and from all afflictions that trouble the world. Send blessing to the work of our hands, and let us find grace, kindness, and compassion from You and from all who see us. Hear our pleas, for You are a God who hears prayer and pleas. Barukh atah HaShem, shomea tefilah. Blessed are you, Adonai, who listens to prayer.
Adonai yishmor tzeitkha u-voekha me-atah v’ad olam. May Adonai guard your going and your coming from now and for all time.