One Step that Changed the Universe
Abraham’s journey related in this week’s Torah portion changed the world forever. Had Abraham not embarked on his odyssey to the “land that I will show you,” we would not have a “promised land,” we would not have a Jewish people, we would not have Sinai, we would not have Judaism, Christianity, Islam and (according to some) Hinduism and Buddhism and other Far Eastern disciplines, we would not have the principles stated in the Ten Commandments, which define the basic human rights that gave become the bedrock of our modern democracies.
Imagine: A lonely journey by a single man (accompanied by a small group of people) taken 3747 years ago changed the entire course of history!
This summer we honored the 40th anniversary of man landing on the moon: If Neil Armstrong’s “one small step for man” was “one giant leap for mankind,” how would we define the implications of Abraham’s first step out of Charan on his way to Canaan?!
In 1972, when President Nixon took his historic trip to China, opening up relations with that closed country, Western journalists had their first opportunity to speak with Chinese leaders. When they asked Chinese leader Zhou Enlai about the impact of the American and French Revolutions, he replied: “It’s too early to tell…”
Our myopic perspective often exaggerates the impact of immediate events happening around us. No one questions the unprecedented landing on the moon, or Columbus’ voyage to the New World, or other great steps taken by men throughout history. But greater then them all – the one that had by far the most powerful impact on history – was Abraham’s journey.
What was it about this journey that carried such potency? What can we learn from Abraham about our own journeys today? How can we ensure that our expeditions leave an indelible positive mark on our children and on generations to come?
Abraham’s journey was far more than a geographical excursion. It was a transition from the comfort zones of self-absorption to the greatest heights of transcendence; a journey from the mortal to the immortal.
Abraham lived in a world absorbed with deep self-interest (sound familiar?) – a pagan world that was consumed with its own way of doing things. Nothing new – the way of all flesh, the natural inclination of man is to serve oneself. Abraham pioneered a new path. Resisting all pressures – rejecting all the influences of his life, his family, culture and community – Abraham searched for something true and eternal, something that transcends the subjective whims of man and transient forces of nature. A lone man pitted against an entire world, Abraham discovered the only true certainty in life: The only certainty in life is the absolute commitment to your Divine calling, to the mission for which you have been uniquely chosen.
G-d’s call to Abraham – “Lech Lecha,” “Go to you, away from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you” – is the essence of mans’ calling on earth: To leave your instinctive and subjective influences, to depart from your nature and habits, to transcend the prejudice of ego, to free yourself from social pressures – to go beyond your self, your genetic and conditioned self, and achieve greatness.
Abraham was the first to take the journey. But not the last. The “Lech Lecha” call resounds through history as it beckons to each one of us: Will you live a life driven by existential interests, or one aspiring transcendence.
Each moment of our lives, at each encounter we face we have two choices: To be mediocre or to be great. Will you follow your selfish, immediate needs, or will you transcend your natural self and reach beyond yourself – to your essence, who you truly are? Will you just suffice with the confines of the forces that have shaped you, or will you go beyond your self?
As each of goes through our life journey we will come to a fork in the road and face this question many times. Reading Abraham’s story can be a tremendous inspiration. Our father Abraham’s story is our story. Abraham ‘father of all nations’ – the first man to discover transcendence – teaches us that the only real response to doubts and confusion is to embrace our unwavering calling.
Abraham began the journey 3747 years ago (Lech Lecha took place in Abraham’s 75th year); we are poised to conclude it. Lech Lecha is the immortal call to Abraham to set out on a journey that would defy the very nature of existence – to reach heaven and beyond, and bring it back to earth.
In the spirit of Abraham, here is a humble suggestion: Let us all think and then write down what journey are we taking in our lives? Are we trapped in our comfort zones? What fears and uncertainties keep us paralyzed? And then ask yourself: What is the most certain thing in your life? What do you know is real with absolute and unconditional surety?
If you cannot find the answer, begin looking now. Listen to the “Lech Lecha” call and begin your journey. If you have the answer, cherish it and hold onto it with every fiber of your being – and above all, live up to it.
Every experience in our lives offers us the opportunity to achieve greatness. Will you rise to the occasion?
Just as Abraham was promised when he embarked on his journey, so too are we promised on our journey: “I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you great and you shall become a blessing. I will bless those… all the families of the earth will be blessed through you.”
And if the skeptic in you wonders whether you will be blessed this way, consider this:
This blessing was bestowed upon Abraham 3747 years ago, and in the millennia that followed from then till now we see its realization – despite all odds. Can one then doubt whether the same blessing can be fulfilled today in our journeys?
Photo by N i c o l a/Flickr.