Monday, November 9, 2009

Along for the ride...

A few weeks ago, Limmud NY asked me to write up my thoughts on one of the Torah Portions, Parashat Lech Lecha.
Here are my thoughts - it's called: "Along for the Ride..."

Parashat Lech Lecha is famous – particularly famous because this is the transitional moment when Abram (soon to be renamed Abraham) becomes a Jew. He’s directed to leave all that’s familiar, to the house where he was born, from his father’s house, and to go to a land that God is going to show him. Take a risk, go forth – journey forward with your life.

But who else is affected by this leap Abram takes? When one person grows, sets off on a journey, it affects their family members as well – and as is often the case, we don’t hear from those voices in the Torah in these moments. It’s time to put ourselves in the shoes not of just the hero on the hero’s journey, but of those who end up on that journey with him, for better or worse. How are those "along for the ride" cared for or considered in his pursuits?

Abram, our hero, enters this journey with his wife by his side. Sarai (she’s not yet renamed Sarah) goes through an intense journey herself, and some may say sacrifice for the sake of the (or his) larger vision.

The scene opens in Chapter 12 verse 10-20, we hear the story of Abram and Sarai heading down to Egypt. Yep, there was a famine in the land and three generations before his great grandson Joseph, Abram goes down to Egypt. Try, just try and imagine this scene: Abram, Sarai (and all the family flock who are with them) are about to enter Egypt when Abram turns to Sarai and reminds her of how gorgeous she is…

What must Sarai have been thinking at that moment – I know what I would think: “uh-oh, what does he want from me!” Abram continues on to say (Verse 12): “If the Egyptians see you, and think, 'She is his wife,' they will kill me and let you live.” Verse 13 says: “Please say that you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may remain alive thanks to you."

Imagine you are Sarai - Say I’m your sister?? Really? How will that help your situation? Would they kill you and take me away? What is going to happen to me? What are you saying? What is this place that we’re entering – such narrowness? Yes Mitzrayim – the narrow place. Do I have a choice here?

Does she?

Well, apparently, she obeyed in the end. She took one for the team, so to speak, for when they entered Egypt, everyone saw Sarai’s beauty, the Egyptians, Pharaoh’s courtiers, and they just up and took her to Pharaoh’s palace. Was there a goodbye? Was she freaking out? Imagine – you are being taken away from your husband and traveling family to a strange palace, with people who don’t speak your language, most likely – and will you ever see your husband again?

And back to Abram, in exchange for giving up his “sister”, he scored quite a boon – sheep, oxen, donkeys, camels – oh and slaves.

Abram – seems he got a pretty price for his wife, I mean, sister.

What happened to Sarai? How was that first night in Pharaoh’s palace, torn away from her husband in a strange land with a different language and customs? We don’t known.

The text doesn’t voice this herstory.

Now, lest you think Sarai was left to a fate of a “kept woman” in a palace, Pharaoh (in the Genesis Apochryphon) wasn’t able to have sexual relations with Sarai for TWO years. (This is built off of the Torah text in verse 17 that says Pharaoh had a ton of severe plagues.) But wait, she was “kept” for two years?

Well, ultimately, Pharaoh does let Sarai return to her husband when he finds out that she’s really Abram’s wife (and has a bunch of plagues because of this.)

What agency did Sarai have for herself if any? What was her experience through all of this? The text tells us that Abram asked her to sacrifice herself – he said please will you do this for my sake. And she apparently does. So should Abram not have gone on the journey? Should he not have gone to Egypt? Is there any blame or fault to be placed in this narrative? Could any of this been avoided? Abram went on a journey, but that journey impacted others – and so when we go on our own journeys, it’s important to take risks and follow our dreams and paths and callings, but also to make sure that we take care that the people who are impacted by our actions are cared for as much as we can care for them in that process. Let us not be reckless in our pursuits of greatness, innovation, change…When you leap, who do you take with you?


Michelle Sydney said...

These are very compelling - and modern - questions. I like the way you point out what's missing, and then speculate as to filling in the gaps. It is when you fill in the story that the moral ("Let us not be reckless... When you leap, who do you take with you?") becomes complete. It's a great exercise in recognizing many stories are only told from one perspective, and we can grow from fleshing out what might have been the other characters' perspectives. Obviously, then we can apply this in our lives by being more compassionate, inclusive, and aware.

Laura Hegfield said...

Wow Naomi,
As you know, Journeying in my family is a daily deal! And you know, there are a lot of missing details in Abram and Sarai's story...if you looked at my families crazy adventures without knowing all the details, you might think that for me to go onto a medicine that has harmful side effects (including death) would be unfair to my kids and husband...and yet when you know the whole is a part of the journey...a risk worth matter what any of us do, our choices, actions, reactions, emotional outbursts all have an impact on not just our family but the world at large...and yet...we have to do what we have to do sometimes...I have to advocate thinking/feeling clearly before taking any step forward...talking about it...getting feed back...acting with love, care and compassion...but still...sometimes you have to take that leap of faith and pray the in the end the step you take will bring healing/goodness/love to all beings.