One Minute Torah: Lech Lecha 5779

An long-time friend, recently returned from a nearly two-year stint in Israel

A long-time friend, recently returned from a nearly two-year stint in Israel, lamented to me our American habit of feeling overwhelmed by the fullness of our lives. She said: “I was at an event last week for school-age families, and one father said to me, ‘Ask anyone in this room how they are doing, and they will tell you “crazy busy.”‘ I tried it and he was right. Every parent’s first response to ‘How are you?’ was a sigh or moan, and ‘Busy!’ That never happened in Israel.”

Israeli parents are far busier than we are. The average Israeli family has more kids and less income than the average American Jewish family. Dual careers are the norm, and nannies, au pairs and take-out dinners are the rare exceptions. But my friend is right; Israeli parents don’t usually describe themselves as “crazy busy” the way we do.

Why do we feel swamped by life? I’ve been asking myself this question a lot lately. It’s as if we are strained by our abundance, or by the abundance around us. We are trying to hold on to it all, to cram each piece into a line on a Google calendar so that nothing is lost. Even when life brings real stresses – lay-offs, personal health problems – all too often we overlay it with stress about the little things that stuff our days. But if a child – God forbid – becomes seriously ill, somehow that can cut through parents’ nonsense, and priorities fall into place.

When God tells Abram to leave his parents’ home, he uses a poetic phrase, difficult to translate: Lech lecha. Lech means “go”. Lecha means “to you”. It’s probably an idiomatic expression, meaning “Get yourself and go.” But the literal meaning is provocative: “Go to yourself”. Leave the madness of your father’s household, the idolatry and misplaced values, and return to your true self.

God does not tell Abram where he is going. “To the land that I will show you,” God says, or, paraphrased, “Drop all your plans, get on your camel, and trust Me.” God promises Abram the reward will be great: “I will bless you…and you will be a blessing.” To return to yourself, you must relinquish some control, release that obsessive inward gaze, and allow yourself to become a blessing to others.

Why are Israeli parents less overwhelmed by their schedules? My friend and I both agreed: for better and for worse, Israeli children enter adulthood by way of the military. Life and death are much closer together in Israel. Any illusion of control is gone when the child turns 18, but that is compensated by the certainty that the military, and the entire community, will care for its young soldiers. And so childhood is spent not in relentless pursuit of self-fulfillment, but in building community through the cooperative sharing of blessings.