I have gone forth many times in my life.
Warning: the next few paragraphs are a history. You can choose to think of them as the equivalent of the various interrupting genealogies in the Torah. So, as many do, you can gloss over them, or read them in their entirety, perhaps finding a few useful pieces of information –just as one can do in the genealogies.
In 1973 I went forth from my childhood home of New York City to college in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. (Interestingly, I got my first driver’s license there. Didn’t have much need to drive while a teen in NYC. Winston-Salem is also the only city I have encountered to date where 1st St and 4th St. actually cross each other.) After graduation In 1977 I briefly returned to NYC for the summer and run a summer day camp. Then I went forth again – first to Doswell, Virginia, and shortly thereafter Mobile, Alabama, as a member of a Dixieland band. How a kid who studied piano at Juilliard from the age of five, and now had an undergraduate degree in theatrical design and production wound up playing with a Dixieland band is a great question, but, like Torah often does, we’ll leave it unanswered!)
The time in Mobile was brief (the club where we were playing went out of business.) I went forth again, this time to New Orleans, Louisiana. That was a great time. We played on Bourbon Street, and did all sorts of crazy, odd jobs. After a while it was off again, to Clearwater, Florida. After a few years there with the band, a marriage, and another club going out of business on us, I went forth again, with my wife, to Elkhart, Indiana. Actually, I worked in Elkhart (in an area called Dunlap) but lived in Bristol, a town of maybe 1200 residents. They had just switched over from 5 digit phone numbers shortly before I moved there. I was using my college degree, managing a performing arts facility, designing shows and working as a musician as well.
I managed to stay there a while (8 years) before going forth yet again to Fargo, North Dakota. There I also managed performing arts facilities, designed shows, and did musical work. I also worked as a synagogue musician and religious school teacher. This time I managed to stay in one place a few months shy of ten years, but left without my then wife of 18 years after we divorced. We had no children, just lots of dogs, cats, and fish. This was also the time and place where and when I finally decided that it was time to make my living as a Jewish professional, no longer doing that as a sideline to my professions as theatrical production manager and musician.
So on to Nashville, Tennessee, graduate school, and a second, much shorter marriage that also ended in a divorce. This one involved two wonderful children.
Three years later I was off to Alexandria, Virginia. I spent seven years there in the DC Metro area. I worked for a number of synagogues and was active in the Jewish community as educator and musician. I lived a few months with a partner in Boyds, Maryland, a far north suburb of DC, and then we (me, her, and her wonderful daughter) were off to Amherst, Massachusetts, she to teach at UMass and I to find whatever Jewish work there was in the area-which turned out to be not much. Three more years, and I went forth again, once again on my own. Only this time, I was going home – back to New York City, Brooklyn, to be exact. Single and unattached again, and living with my 87-year-old mother, who needed, and was happy for, the company.
(In looking this over, I’ve seen the number three come up a few times. I wonder what that’s all about. Or am I just being eisegetical?)
This list of places I’ve lived is even longer if you factor in the various local moves and temporary summer moves. Three boroughs (Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn) and four addresses in New York City. During college years, summer addresses in Charlotte, North Carolina and Henrico County, Virginia (suburban Richmond.) Two addresses in New Orleans. Four addresses in three cities in Florida. Just two – one apartment and my first home, in Indiana, both in the same town. Thankfully, in Fargo, only one address. In Nashville, two addresses. In Alexandria, Virginia, two addresses within the same apartment complex. One each in Maryland and Massachusetts.
Phew. I think we’re pretty much past the recap.
Now, after a year in New York City to prove that you really can’t go home again, I am going forth yet again, this time to Deerfield, Illinois, a town in the northern suburbs of Chicago.
(I could write a whole essay on why the return to NYC didn’t work. Oh wait, I did write a short one. You can find it at:
Now, I can’t say that any one of my moves was anything like that which Avram undertook at G”d’s direction. Each time, I did indeed know where I was going. Yet, in any journey, there are always unknowns. Some of my moves were for education. Some for love. Some for work. Some for life. All of those are rife with possibilities, and fraught with potential perils. While I my have known a journey’s end locale, I can hardly claim to have known the real destination. New people, new communities, new workplaces, new expectations.
A quick diversion, if I might. When I was younger and moving around, locales had distinct personalities, characteristics, store, restaurants, etc. That has changed over the decades and places have become increasingly similar, homogenized, as it were. I sort of knew it was an unstoppable trend when Starbucks came to Fargo. Now don’t get me wrong. Many towns, cities, and neighborhoods have very distinct personalities. They still have unique restaurants, stores, parks, architecture, etc. New York City still has distinct neighborhoods. However there is also a sameness. In Metro NYC (and, for that matter, metro Chicago) there’s a Chase bank in every neighborhood. Each locale might have its local coffee place, but there’s bound to be a nearby Starbucks. For every unique local eatery there are numerous nearby national chains.
So, these days, when moving from one place to another, perhaps some of the anxiety about not finding familiar names and places is lessened. By the same token. sometimes I find that seeing the same store and restaurant names everywhere is anxiety-producing.
Imagine what it was like for Avram. Travelers to Ur and Haran may have brought information about far-flung places, but how much could they really convey? I imagine there were far more differences than similarities. Oh, you could certainly expect to find a temple of some sort just about everywhere. Which gods were worshipped in it was another matter. (My understanding is that it was common practice for a traveler to utilize the local temple wherever they were in order to make offerings to their own gods.)
I don’t want to sell words short. While a picture may paint a thousand words, words can also paint a pretty complete picture. Still, like today, there’s still nothing like experiencing a place for yourself. Avram didn’t even know where he was going. He probably had a general idea of where G”d was leading him. Still, he was far braver than I would consider I am.
Nevertheless, I could only hazard a guess at many of the things that lay before me each time I journeyed forth, for myself, to a new place. Thus, in that way, it is as if I were going to a place I did not know, like Avram. I would also like to think that G”d’s hand was there guiding me with each journey, and that I was truly being shown to a new place. That begs the question of course, as to whether it was G”d’s judgment, or my own, that made some poor choices. Well, that’s not fair. I have made some choices (and perhaps G”d made some choices for me) that were, in hindsight, not wise choices. Yes, I have some regrets. Yet, in the end, I am where I am and I am who I am because of all those experiences. They have made me all the richer for experiencing them. (Whether they have made me wiser, that’s another subject entirely.)
There is one big difference between Avram’s journey and my own. While the promise of future generations was there, I chose, for ever-changing reasons, to not sire children of my own. I have been privileged to be a step-parent and pseudo-parent to a number of wonderful children, yet, unlike Avram, my line ends with me. I leave it to my sister and relatives to continue the family lineage. I have no servant, no Eliezer to inherit. Not that I leave much behind. My material possessions and financial holdings are meager. What is it that I will leave behind?
Avram prayed that G”d give him children, give him an heir. G”d delivered on that promise. I am not driven to make that same request. I have the children who have come into my life through relationships, and through my work as a teacher and educator. They shall be my inheritance.
I will leave my work. It is not finished yet. I leave my life. It, too, is not over yet, and new chapters are perhaps beginning to be written. What gets written is as much in my hands as it is in G”d’s hands. Perhaps more in my hands.
Avram journeyed forth, taking his household with him to a place he did not know, to a place that G”d would show him. It was not an easy journey-Avram had his trials and tribulations. Why did he make the journey? Why do any of us make the journey? The answer is found, at least for me, in how we have always teased out the meaning of the verb construct “Lekh Lekha.” Go forth, for yourself. Go forth, to yourself. Take your pick of these or other translations/interpretations.
I have again a journey before me. As I write this, my material possessions are on a truck somewhere between New York and Illinois. Once again, I have a new community of people to get to know, a new household to set up. I also have new chances and new opportunities.
What is it that I seek on these journeys? Why do I continue to go forth, for myself? Avram received one particular bit of largess from G”d. It was a new name, Avraham. This new name represented a new phase in Avram’s life. Gone forth from his birthplace, Avram was free of the restrictions that place placed in his way. Only in a new place and with a new name could Avram become father of a multitude of nations.
No, it is not a new name I seek. I’m happy with my name, and, to some extent, who I am. In addition, my Hebrew name is already Avraham. I am proud to bear his name, though I most often feel unworthy of the honor.
What am I seeking? I think I am seeking the same thing Avram/Avraham was seeking. To have a relationship with G”d. To get to know G”d. To get to know myself. To have a relationship with myself. Both are journeys that have no end. There are stops along the way, and we stay in some longer than others. Some of us stay in only a few, some of us journey to many. I’m not sure what I would do if I ever reached a place I believed was the journey’s end. I suspect I might stay for a while and then get the urge to move on. Well, truth be told, I think, a number of times in my life I thought I had reached a more or less permanent destination, only to have life prove me wrong, and rebuke me for my hubris in thinking I could actually know this. There was a time – it still is a time – when I long for the permanence and security of a more or less permanent destination. Yet permanence is elusive.
I am, have always been, a person of opposites (as most of us are.) I long for permanence, I long for end result. Yet my passion is as much for process, for the journey. It has been (and continues to be) a slow process for me to embrace the latter, even though it permeates all that I do. As a person, as a professional, the process is of greater importance to me than the product. I seek that fine balance between the desire for permanence and the passion for process. I seek to become the blessing that I am living my life as.
And so I travel on…
©2012 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other Musings on This Parasha:
Lekh Lekha 5772 – Out of Context
Lekh Lekha 5771 (5765, 5760) Things Are Seldom What They Seem An Excerpt from the “Journal of Lot”
Lekh Lkha 5770 – Revisiting the Ten Percent Solution
Lekh L’kha 5769 – Of Nodding Heads, Whistling Airs, and Snickersnees
Lekh Lekha 5768 – The Covenant That (Almost) Wasn’t – Excerpts from the Diary of Terakh
Lekh Lekha 5767-Penile Pilpul
Lekh Lekha 5766-The Other Siders
Lekh Lekha 5765 – Redux 5760
Lekh Lekha 5764-Ma’aseir Mikol-The Ten Percent Solution
Lekh Lekha 5763-No Explanations
Lekh Lekha 5761-The Intellectual Echad
Lekh L’kha 5758-Little White Lies