I live a fantasy life. At least, that seems to be what most people think. When I tell people I got married and now travel the world full-time, many people are envious. They want to know what the trick is, what is the secret, how we manage to live this incredible lifestyle.
Well, not everything about the traveling life is as idyllic as it may seem. Of course, most people wait all year for their vacation, their “escape.” But for those people, the vacation, the travel, really is an escape. It’s short-term adventure. They may leave for a few weeks or even a month, they may go to a relaxing island (like Fiji) or escape to the mountains (like Nepal). Yet, they always leave knowing they will return. It is a profoundly different experience leaving… and not having anywhere to which to return. I don’t have a home to go back to. I have plenty of places where I can go to visit family or friends, but it’s nothing like having a home base. And let me tell you, while that may sound liberating (and it really can be), the truth is that it is incredibly difficult.
That’s the essence of the challenge given to our forefather Avraham, then known as Avram, in this week’s parsha. He is told, “Lech lecha,” “Go by yourself.” He is told to go by himself (well, with his wife, as they are a single unit in the sense of marriage) and to adventure out, to go to an unknown land. He doesn’t keep a house to come back to, he doesn’t bring his parents or his siblings or his cousins. He doesn’t even know how long his journey will be or where it will take him. It is considered to really be the most difficult test of them all (and he had 10 of them). It is hard to leave behind everything you have accumulated, to give up everything and everyone you know, and go alone into the wilderness.
Yet it seems to me that this is exactly what Rabbi Ben has done and now, more recently, me with him. And I can tell you firsthand just how hard it was to be in a foreign land, in a place where I did not even have internet or phones or electricity (at least not when and where I wanted them!), without my home, without my belongings, and most importantly, without my family or friends. To think of doing this at the age of 75, as Avram did, is astounding to me.
But what is more amazing to me is that when I look around, I realize that this is a miraculous thing to have done. I don’t realize it by looking at my own experiences, not at all, but by looking at the experiences of others. All those Jews who strike out into the unknown, alone but for their spouses, to reach out to Jewish communities and Jewish travelers. All those places – Chabad Houses and Lev Yehudi and countless others – where the rabbi and rebbetzin (and often their children, too) have gone to a totally different and uncharted territory solely in the service of G-d. That is the most miraculous thing of all. To take such a huge step to reach out to others, and to do so only because of love of G-d.
That is what Avram does in this week’s parsha. More than bris milah, more than the binding of Isaac, this is his most difficult test. And all around in my travels, I see people who are doing this every day. We see ourselves and we do not realize the amazing things of which we are capable. We read about Avram doing this amazing thing and think, ‘Wow!’ but we do not realize that we ourselves can be doing that exact same thing! And many people are.
So remember, as you read the Torah and the commandments, that these stories are not as farfetched as you might first think. When G-d gives us the mitzvot to do, He isn’t giving us anything of which we are incapable. If so many G-d fearing Jews can pass Avram’s most difficult test themselves, then each of us can, too. And each of us can pass any test G-d gives us, and keep any mitzvot He gives us, too. We only have to have the faith… and try.