The poet Rilke writes,
God speaks to each of us as [she] makes us,
Then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
All week I have been feeling pushed to the limits of my longing. I can imagine I am not alone. And sitting with the words of this week's Torah portion I realized this is what is meant when the Holy One calls to our ancestor Abraham: Lech lecha! Go forth, out beyond your recall; from a place of comfort and belonging, into the vast unknown of this world. Go to the limits of your longing!
Abraham heeds the call and heads out into the wilderness. In a famous midrash, beautifully recounted for us in this morning's Torah reading, Abraham's journey is likened to a person who is traveling, a person who is all of us, and comes upon a bira doleket, a burning palace (Gen. Rabbah 39:1).
The traveler cries out, "Does this palace have an owner? Who is its caretaker?" On hearing this, the owner of the palace leans out the window and calls from amidst the flames, "I am its caretaker."
We, like Abraham, are in the midst of a world on fire, stunned by the magnitude of injustice; betrayed by the malice and negligence of those in power and ever aware of our own power and responsibility to take care of each other and our world.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.
In the wake of the murder of Walter Wallace, Jr., on the second anniversary of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, on the eve of this crucial election, we must heed the wisdom of our ancestors. Lech lecha! Just keep going. No feeling is final. Don't let yourself lose your center, your Source, your dignity, your power.
As we enter this Shabbat, I encourage you to carve out time to both go forth and go inward. Make a plan for how you will vote and how you will make sure every vote is counted. AND make a plan for how you will care for yourself this Shabbat and in the coming week. The journey forward and the journey inward are simultaneous and inseparable. May we all have the courage, calm, and capacity to make our lives a blessing in this burning world.
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.