Apartments in Jerusalem are not meant to hold more than 10 people at once. Yet I found myself tightly packed into one, sitting on the floor, with 75 other people preparing for an overnight trip into walled-off Bethlehem — a place, I also found, was even more cramped than a Jerusalem apartment. Just after I’ve broken my kneecap in the process of tucking my legs so I can sit “Indian-style” we begin to talk about “feelings”. Great, so now I’m crammed into a small Jerusalem apartment, with way too many guests, I’m thirsty, and group therapy is about to begin.
The conversation began slowly, focusing on each individual and their unique contribution. As a group of American students spending the year in Israel studying in Yeshivot of some kind, or taking a year off through various universities and graduate schools, we’ve been asked to provide our hopes, fears, and to identify someone who would be proud of us for venturing out to what we might consider “uncharted territory”.
Some people stated fears like: physical harm, emotional harm — like losing a love of Israel, what our parents might think of our participation, what we might think of the people we meet and vice versa. And we also spoke about our hopes and dreams: Hopes that we will obtain a better understanding of this current conflict, that we will learn and be able to educate from it, and that we will be able to find ways of bringing peace to the lives of others as well as our own.
As it appears to me, it is not surprising that we have our fears coupled alongside our hopes and dreams as they all interact with one another. Our dreams give us hope and motivation, yet our fears, somehow, can prevent those dreams from ever coming to fruition.
Believe it or not, but this is the same situation that we find Abram in at the beginning of parashat Lekh Lekha. God says, “Go, for yourself,” go from what you know to be most familiar, your own home for instance, and encounter a new place that I will show you. God sweetens the deal and promises him a dream– he’ll be a great success!
And Gd said to Abram: “Go, for yourself, from your country and from your birthplace, and from the house of your father’s to a country that I will show you. I shall make you a great nation, and I shall bless you, and I shall make your name great; be a blessing!” (Bere’shit 12:1–2).
So, Abram does just that, he packs up his family and personal possessions, and goes forth. Yet the fact remains that this plan isn’t as simple as it sounds because Abram, like the rest of us, is still human. Because he is human, on the way to Egypt he has a fearful revelation and says, “I might actually get killed doing this.”
And when he came close to entering Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman of beautiful appearance. When the Egyptians see you, they will say”; ‘this is his wife’; then, they will kill me, but keep you alive.” (Bere’shit 12:11–12).
This statement is not mere hyperbole; Abram really believes his life is in danger.
The interesting part about Abram’s resolve is that he doesn’t back down. He doesn’t stop, or turn around, that isn’t part of his goal in this circumstance. Because he is human he could have easily said, “forget it, this isn’t worth it” but he doesn’t, he just continues on.
You see, the point of our parashah and the reason why we all crammed ourselves into a small Jerusalem apartment are one in the same; the ability to pursue our hopes and dreams despite the fears coupled with them. If you want those dreams and hopes to feel tangible, then you must not let the fears coupled with them to paralyze you. You must continue to encounter new things, even the things that might frighten you.
We aren’t the only ones who know it either. Rashi, a French, medieval, and one of our greatest commentators, knows this well because he teaches that Lekh Lekha is not just about going for yourself — like you would to the grocery store or to the movies — it’s not mundane. Rashi knows that going for yourself, in a circumstance like this, when it comes to getting even one step closer to fulfilling your dreams, is about personal benefit. Rashi further explains that in Abraham’s case, just like in ours, it is to our advantage to encounter all that we might be unfamiliar with, and all that might terribly scare us in the name of understanding and actualizing our hopes and dreams. I’ve used Abraham here instead of Abram deliberately because at the conclusion of this parashah, this chapter in his life, he is not only closer to the dream that God has promised him, but has a different name — a different identity — all because, I believe, he went forth in the first place. His new name was part of the reward he received for having taken the first step.
Ultimately, however, even with a public statement of our fears, hopes and dreams, they remain private. In this context we must look at one other motivating factor behind this opportunity to encounter, which is the pride that it offers. After we expressed our fears and hopes we added a moment to confess who might be proud of us for participating in this program. I was surprised to find that in a room full of spiritually and religiously engaged Jews, Jewish educators, Yeshiva and Rabbinical students, myself included, not one person mentioned that they thought God was proud of them for going. Why not?
I have to believe that God is proud of us for this. He/She/It has to be because the fears and hopes and dreams that we have all admitted to, all belong to God as well. Our fulfillment of the dream is also God’s fulfillment of the dream. And the least that God asks of you, is the least you need to ask yourself — lekh lekha – go, if for nothing else, than for yourself.
Noam Raucher is currently in-process for ordination from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. He participated in Encounter trips in 2007 and 2008 when living in Jerusalem, both as a participant and group facilitator in Hebron and Bethlehem. You can see his pictures from his Encounter experiences on his Facebook page. Noam is expecting his first child with his amazing wife, Tamar.