I am impressed by the physical activity that drives our parashah. If the Torah had a travel rewards program, then Abraham would deserve its gold card. In this parashah alone he traverses much of the Middle East, starting in Mesopotamia, walking the length and breadth of Canaan and even checking out Egypt. He is the "Ivri-the crosser"-and he indeed crosses rivers... and climbs mountains and explores valleys. He constructs altars, directs armies and builds a family. Lekh lekha or "Go" is an apt title for this parashah and its frenetic protagonist.
Imagine that you were staging a dramatic production of this parashah, how many stage notes would be required to capture all of the gestures of our patriarch? I count dozens of verbs attached to Abram, [i] but one gesture which recurs and seems particularly significant is that of prostration. Twice Abraham "hits the dirt," falling on his face before God, once in awe and once in apparent disbelief. Twice God promises him prodigious progeny-fittingly, the first time God tells Abraham that his descendants will be like the dust of the earth. This image is hardly as glamorous or poignant as the later stars of the sky promise, but perhaps Abraham prefers the earth? Next week he proclaims "and I am dust and ashes." Abraham truly inhabits the land and develops a special bond with its physical features.
We often say "think first, act second." This is generally good advice, but it seems to me that Judaism teaches us to modify the concept. We should think before we take fateful action, of course, but sometimes we must act even before we fully understand our direction. As we stand up and get into a ready position, our body and brain prepare to work in concert and to identify our next step. Beginning to act can be a trigger that allows understanding to emerge. That is part of the wisdom of mitzvot, we have ritualized behaviors which themselves teach us how to think, even before we understand their rational. [ii]
As we follow the motions of Abraham this week, let's consider our own physical motions. How does one act in the face of God? What do our own motions teach us about our priorities? As we enter our resting state this Shabbat, let this be a time of contemplation which prepares us to act in the coming week with rigor, good instinct and insight.
Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham
[i] Although their names are Abram and Sarai through most of the parsha, most refer to them as AAbraham and Sarah, the names God gives them at the end of the parsha.
[ii] The story is told of the solider in boot camp who complains about having to dissemble his rifle blindfolded. He says "this is silly." Six months later he is in Iraq on the front line and his rifle jams in the middle of the night. If he takes out his flashlight, the enemy will see where he is. As he unjams it in the dark he thinks to himself, "Now I know why they wanted me to do it blindfolded!"