Lech Lecha Liminality
“...Living with flux...may no longer be temporary.
We are dwellers on a threshold, poised in the liminal moment, ‘a moment of passage when new cultural symbols and meanings can emerge.
Liminal moments are times of tension, extreme reactions, and great opportunity.’
These moments shimmer with new possibilities.
They are painful, tough, full of hard choices - and they provoke anxiety...”
- Pamela McCorduck quoting Sherry Turkel in "Life on the Screen"
Like Abraham and Sarah at the opening of Bereishit/Genesis 12, we too are traveling to an unknown land and looking at an uncertain future. “Lech Lecha- Go forth from your native land and from your father's house to the land that I will show you," says the Holy One.
Remarkably, Lech Lecha demonstrates liminality in 4 different ways corresponding to the 4 different but intertwined worlds of reality/perception according to Jewish mysticism (as taken from The Seventh Telling by Rabbi Mitch Chefitz):
Remez/ Allegory/ Emotional/Feeling / Formation (Yetzirah)
Another translation/commentary on Lech Lecha is that the Holy One is calling to Abraham and Sarah and saying: Get going already (understanding the command form of the verb as an indication of urgency)!
- Imagine what Abraham & Sarah felt like when they heard G!D's command. How difficult is it to "go forth" from one's home, family, and country? What must it have been like severing their ties at such an advanced age (Abraham was 75!) and start life over, leaving the familiar. How scary it must have been to leave the familiar!
- But also imagine how Abraham & Sarah might have felt somewhat energized to leave their home & country and go to a new place? This is an opportunity to start fresh and go to a place where it's not like any other country.
What do all of these emotions share in common? They are all expressed at liminal moments in time.
Drash/ Theme/ Intellectual/ Knowing / Creation (Briyah)
A third way of understanding Lech Lecha is that the Holy One is calling to Abraham and Sarah and saying: Go for yourself (putting emphasis on the second word, which can be translated "for you."
- Think about the kind of intellectual journey Abraham and Sarah must have also travelled? They weren't just journeying physically and emotionally. They were on a journey of meaning!
- Do you remember what becoming a stranger in a new land does to/for you?
- Displacements/ Encounters with Other (be it a person, a new culture, a new idea) shake up our notions of self, the world, what is true and real. It causes us to question our values and assumptions.
As a country, we stand at a crossroads of meaning and values, a liminality of ideas.
What does it mean to be a "great nation?" What does it mean to "be a blessing?" (as G!D promises Abraham and Sarah in Bereishit 12:2) What kind of national behavior will invoke the blessing that "all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you?" (as G!D promises Abraham and Sarah in Bereishit 12:3)
Sod/ Symbolism/ Spiritual/ Being/ Emanation (Atzilut):
A Chassidic way of reading Lech Lecha is to interpret it as G!D's way of saying to Abraham and Sarah-"Go TO yourself", to your potential & your essence. Encounter the crossroads of your-Self.
In this uncertainty, this threshold place and time, there is room for growth. We know that sometimes we have to leave home... to go home. To find what home really means to us. Realizing true potential is what "going to yourself" is all about.
With all of this uncertainty and change, this liminality and flux, how did Abraham and Sarah handle this massive transition in their lives? Bitachon, the quality of Trust in G!D.
We humans must do what we can to influence the world but when we reach the limit of our abilities to control/ change/ do, we must also sit back and let the world unfold or we will be consumed by anxiety over... our lack of control, actually.
"The introduction of Abraham & Sarah marks a new beginning in the evolving partnership between God and humanity.
A middle-aged couple goes forth into the wilderness armed only with a promise.
Their journey of self-discovery, begun 4000 years ago, continues to this day.
You and I are the heirs to their ongoing process of becoming, their ever-unfolding tale of character and deed that each of us authors in his own life and time.
As we read their story, we join them as they embark on their journey toward an unnamed land and an unknown future."
~Wrestling With Angels, Naomi Rosenblatt, pp. 91-92
Now is the time to dwell in the characteristic of Bitachon/ Trust as we embark on a Lech Lecha journey similar to Abraham and Sarah's. Not because (G!D forbid) we should be passive. But because dwelling in anxiety and fear is not healthy and doesn't give us the strength for our journey.