Turning Over a New Leaf Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum Baltimore Jewish Times October 22, 2004
Take a walk down the street and you can’t miss it: the world itself seems to be changing color as the leaves on the trees take on shades of orange, yellow, and red. The transformation outdoors reflects an inner feeling of newness, a fresh start. With the month of holidays behind us but not forgotten, and the autumn season crackling all around us, we have finally jumped into the new year with both feet. We’re ready for the next adventure.
In our fast-paced, mobile society, people are constantly on the move. We go from one place to another, traveling by land, sea, and air, even through space (and cyberspace). We seek change and novelty—new homes, new careers, new experiences. But where are we going, and what are we really looking for? And how do we react when change is demanded of us although we have not chosen it for ourselves—brought about, for example, by a personal crisis, political upheaval, or natural disaster?
We can gain some perspective from this week’s parsha, Lech L’cha, in which Avraham Avinu (Abraham our biblical forefather) sets out on the ultimate quest in response to G-d’s command: "Go away from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you." Avraham faces an enormous challenge: at the age of 75, to leave all he has ever known and set out for the vast unknown, toward a destination not completely revealed to him.
Charged with this divine mission, Avraham energetically moves forward with courage and optimism. Like a young sapling bending in the wind, he is flexible; and like a mature tree that does not sway, his faith in G-d is strong and unshakable. G-d tests him ten times. Each time he fulfills what is required of him, with steadfast determination. His wife, Sarai—whose name is changed to Sarah—is his equal partner in meeting the challenges he faces. Together, Avraham and Sarah teach the people of their city to know that there is one G-d, and how to live according to Jewish principles. Their followers join them as they journey out of Charan, toward the holy land promised to them, the land of Israel.
Avraham and Sarah know that they are following a road charted for them by G-d. The Almighty has spoken to them directly, and although they do not know their ultimate destination, they trust that G-d is leading them on their way. For us, the connection is not always so clear, unless we open our eyes to the hand of G-d, guiding the everyday occurrences of our lives.
When Avraham and Sarah set out toward the unknown, they were willing to learn and grow along the way, with the confidence that there is a divine purpose and a plan. They are spirited role models for us today. When we are faced with a challenge that compels us to change, that is no less a divine message than the command given to history’s first Jewish couple. Sometimes we can sense this; our inner voice tells us that what we are facing is meant to force us to grow, for our benefit.
The Baal Shem Tov, who sparked the Chassidic movement in the 18th century, taught that when a leaf falls from a tree, it has been decreed from heaven that this leaf would fall at this exact spot at this particular moment. Every detail is part of G-d’s eternal plan for the universe. An individual leaf has a destiny—perhaps to give shelter to a tiny worm— then, certainly each one of us has our own personal mission. In order to discover what that special task is, we should strive to face newness with courage, flexibility, and hope, trusting that our destination will become known to us as our lives unfold.
It is explained that G-d’s command to Avraham, Lech l’cha, literally means, "Go to yourself." In his situation, by journeying away from his home, he embarks on a quest to know who he really is, to fulfill his purpose as a Jew. As you watch the metamorphosis of the leaves this season, take time to think about your own mission, the path that G-d has set out for you alone to follow—a journey toward who you are and what you may yet become.Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Weisblum is spiritual leader for Kneseth Israel Congregation in Annapolis and also the author of highly acclaimed book, "Table Talk: Biblical Questions and Answers."