Random Musing Before Shabbat – Lekh Lekha 5768
The Covenant That (almost) Wasn’t
(Excerpts from the Diary of Terakh)
Last night, the strangest thing happened. I had gone out for my evening constitutional. I walked along the river. On the other side I could see the glow of fires and could faintly hear the sounds of people in the city. Why, you might ask, would I want to walk by the river and see all that we left behind? Did we not choose, as did the others here in our little country community, to take the risk and move away from there, across the river to this side. Or perhaps, to those we left behind, the other side. Do you know, they actually have a name for us – they call us Ivri, those who have crossed over the Tigris.
I walk there not because I miss the city, its urgent lifestyle and sinful ways. It is to remind me of my choice to forsake those things in search of a better life, a place where I, where all my tribe, can be better people. I have no regrets anymore. If anything, I’d like to move even further away.
These thoughts crowding my mind, I walked unaware, and soon found myself well away from both our new home, and the city. It was an empty place, quiet and peaceful, yet not very familiar. I sat down for a moment upon a rock to gather my wits. It was then that a voice spoke to me. "Terakh," the voice said. Cautious about revealing my location to a bandit, I remained silent. The voice called again, insistently, "Terakh." It didn’t seem to be coming from any particular place, it was all around me, yet at the same time, nowhere. It called a third time, even more insistently. "Terakh." This time I threw caution to the wind and answered "I am here."
The voice said: "Go forth from your native land to the land that I will show you, and I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you, and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing."
I was dumbstruck. I didn’t know what to say, what to ask. I wasn’t sure who was talking to me. Could it have been the god El, or perhaps El Elyon, the highest god? Perhaps it was just some friends playing a trick on me? I just couldn’t be certain.
I ran home as quickly as I could. Thoughts raced through my mind. Was this a god talking to me? Was I being tested? Perhaps the gods had knowledge of some of my innermost secrets. I’ve mentioned them to you before, diary. How I am beginning to wonder if all these gods are really just one and the same – they are all just "the" god. El Elyon.
If the gods are testing me, perhaps I should be worried. Maybe it is a warning. On the other hand, maybe I’ve been chosen exactly because of what I have been thinking.
Only one way to be sure. Tonight, I’m going back to that same place. Wish me luck.
Well, I wish I could tell you that everything worked out last night, but in some ways I am more confused than ever. I went back to the place where I heard the voice last night. I sat on the same rock. I waited. And waited. And waited. As I waited, I thought. I imagined scenarios in which one lesser god or another was planning to enlist me in a campaign to increase his status. I wondered again if the various lesser gods were testing me or playing with me. I tried to calm my mind and clear my head by thinking about my idea that there is really only one god. A crystal clarity entered my mind, and just at the moment, the voice spoke again. "Terakh." I decided there was no point in waiting to reply, so I immediately responded "I am here." Again, the voice said: "Go forth from your native land to the land that I will show you, and I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you, and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing." Summoning up my nerve, I asked "who are you? Are you god?" Again, the voice said: "Go forth from your native land to the land that I will show you, and I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you, and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing." No matter what I responded, what question I asked – Are you god? Are you a god? "Where should I go? How shall I know when I am there? – I received the same answer: "Go forth from your native land to the land that I will show you, and I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you, and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing." I finally summoned up the true nerve to ask "and what will i receive if I do as you say?" The voice answered again, "Go forth from your native land to the land that I will show you, and I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you, and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing." Only this time, it added "I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you." Finally, a response, of sorts. Now I just have to figure out what the answer means.
I think I figured it out! I’ve told my old lady, and my son Avram, and all the rest of the clan to start packing – we’re moving. I’m sure now that I was right. It was the voice of "the" god that spoke to me, El Elyon. He wants me to go. He won;t tell me where, but he’ll let me know when I get there. So how do I know where to go? It’s obvious. I almost smacked myself in the head when I realized what the answer was. I simply had to continue the journey I had already started-away from Ur. South and east, perhaps all the way across the Euphrates, perhaps even to the mighty Eastern sea itself. I’ve heard tell that the land of the Canaanites is quite nice. Maybe we should go there? Well, whatever. When we get to the place where El Elyon wishes us to go, he will surely send us a sign.
Oh, the wife thinks I’m crazy, as does my son Haran, and his wife. Now as to Avram – well, his wife Sarai thinks I’m a total nutcase, but Avram, he just listened patiently to me while I explained what was going on. He said not a word the whole time – just listened and nodded, and, at the end, simply said "sounds good to me." Every son should be thus. Ah, if only Nahor, my beloved son now lost to me, had such an attitude and such respect for his elders, he might still be alive.
You’ll forgive me if I don’t write in you for a while, dear diary. It;’s going to be a busy time packing up and moving out. Wish me luck. Even with a god, no with "the" god, on my side, I can use all the luck I can get. It’s going to be a hard journey.
It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to collect my thoughts and write. We finally left our little village and set out on our journey to wherever. It hasn’t been easy, let me tell you. Very slow going. During the days, it is stiflingly hot, and in t he night, one could almost freeze in one’s tent. Finding water for all the animals, let alone ourselves, has not been that easy. We’ve gone through far more of our stores of food than I expected.
Still, I know that "the" god won’t abandon me, as long as I show faith. And so we will press onward.
The journey is taking it’s toll, We’ve lost a number of sheep, some goats, and even a few of the cows. The women are complaining and nagging, the children are all whining, and even my sons are beginning to grouse a bit. I guess I don’t blame them. The food is almost gone, water is scarce, and our flocks continue to die off in droves. I sure hope we come to a town soon. I can’t believe "the" god would send us out here only to allow us to die. I must keep up my faith, and shepherd not only my flocks, but my clan, onward.
This "god" better deliver, and soon. We’re out of food except for what little we mange to find or catch, and the last few wells we encountered were either dry or poison. This is what "the" god wants? Each night when we stop, I pray to El Elyon to show us a sign, to deliver us from hunger and thirst. I get no response, though in my head, I can still hear the echoes of those long ago words: "Go forth from your native land to the land that I will show you, and I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you, and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing." I won’t be much of a blessing if I’m dead, will I?
Thank "the" god. We have found food, water, shelter, and more. We have come to this marvelous city named Haran. The people are friendly and welcoming, even to strangers like us. They offer us food and water, and allow us to camp near the town. Surely, this is the place that "the" god intends for us to be. I’m just waiting for a sign. Tonight, I went out and built a little altar of stones, and sacrificed a lamb and a dove on it to El Elyon – perhaps his power extends even to this faraway place. I wonder. Here, they seem to have many gods, some with names very much like those back home in Ur. Then there are many strange, new gods. The people here like to worship these gods constantly. They all have many little stone idols to which they pray. Pretty crudely made, I must say. Not a decent stone carver in the whole city, I would wager. Maybe I can pick up a little work on the side…
Still no sign from "the" god that this is the place where he wanted us to go. Every night I offer a sacrifice and ask "the" god if this is the place of which he spoke. I get no answer. Surely he will speak to me again so that I will know.
The kinfolk seem to really like this place. They’ve made lots of friends, and we’ve managed to begin to replace all the flocks and stores that we lost along the way. Soon we’ll be no worse off than when we set out. It would be too bad if we’re not meant to stay here.
We’ve been here in Haran almost six months now. My how the time flies. The family is thriving, and things are good. Once every week or so, I still offer a sacrifice to El Elyon, and still I receive no response. I have to admit that, a few times, I’ve gone into the local temple and offered some sacrifices to a few of the local gods – though I must admit it felt a bit uncomfortable.
I think I mentioned before how the folks here just love to have little stone idols of their gods to which they can pray. One day, I stopped by the shop of one of the local stone carvers and we began talking. I showed him a trick or two I knew about stone carving, and he was very impressed. (To be honest, his work is schlock, and I had to work a little at not making my examples look too good, for fear he would just throw me out!) Anyway, to make a long story short, he hired me on the spot to work in his shop, making little stone idols. Goodness, these people have a lot of gods. And everyone seems to want a little stone idol of each of them. Seems kind of silly to me – they pray to these idols as if they were the gods themselves. Well, whatever floats their boat. I’ve got to get some sleep. I’ve got a full day of stone-carving ahead of me.
Do you know what I actually did last night? I went to that old altar I had built, and offered up a sacrifice to El Elyon. I don;t know what made me decide to do that – perhaps I was nostalgic. Of course, "the", and I mean that sarcastically, of course, "the" god did not respond. No surprise there. Guess it just w wasn’t meant to be. well, some of what the god told me is somewhat true. Lots of people here in Haran bless me, and all know my name. They just love the idols I make for them. People come from far away to get my idols. Ever since the old man retired and sold me the business, it’s been going like gangbusters. I’ve had to hire a number of apprentices and helpers. I even ask Avram and Nahor and my grandson Lot to help out in t he shop once in a while. They don’t seem to mind helping out in the business, and it’s more fun than tending to the flocks – and besides, we have plenty of servants to do that sort of stuff. None of them seem to have quite the knack (or interest) in stone carving that I do. That’s a shame. I’m hoping I can pass the business on to my sons and their sons – it’s a good living.
Oh, I just have to tell you this great story.The other day, I was in the shop and Avram was helping. I had to go make a delivery, and decided it was safe to leave Avram alone in the shop. When I came back, the place was a mess. There were shattered idols everywhere. When I asked Avram what had happened, he told me that one of the bigger stone idols had attacked the others and smashed them. Well, I grabbed him by his tunic and slapped him across the face. "Don’t lie to me!" I shouted at him. "You know that these are nothing but stone – they are not gods." You know the smart-aleck son of mine answered? He gets this cocky look in his eye and says to me "Then why, Father, do you and all the other people pray to them?" I was about to let him have it good, just like I did when he was a child – but then I stopped. I realized he was right. I had taught him well – perhaps too well for his own good. Tonight, I think I may talk to him about my idea that all the gods are really just one god in many representations. I wonder what he’ll think of that. I just may leave a legacy after all.
This isn’t Terakh writing, it’s Avram. I just found this diary among dad’s stuff. I’ve some sad news to share. Dad died last week. You should have seen the funeral. Almost everyone in town came. They really liked Dad. well, I think perhaps it was his work that they liked. I wonder how they’d feel if they knew he thought their silly little idols were just that – silly little idols – meaningless hunks of rock.
I don;t know if I;m cut out to take over the family business. I’m not much good at stone-carving. But now that I’ve read this diary of Dad’s, I think I have an idea. I’m going to out tonight for a long walk, and stop and sit on a rock and wait and see if the voice of a god comes to me. wish me luck.
End of diary excerpts.
Like Terakh, how many opportunities have we missed out on, because we weren’t patient enough to wait for the guidance we had been promised? Yet, like Terakh, we still have the chance to allow the task that we had been chosen for to be completed – by our future generations. That is why we must teach them well all that we have learned – so they might carry on for us to see the promise fulfilled. G"d is waiting. We need only patience…and faith.
©2007 by Adrian A. Durlester
My thanks to Hazzan Sunny Schnitzer and members of the Kemach and Torah study group at Bethesda Jewish Congregation for suggesting and getting me started on this thread of Torah.