Vayera (Genesis 18-22:24)

dsc00889When you imagine the wilderness, what do you see? 

What do you feel?

I have been learning and singing a song from the show Next to Normal called “I Miss the Mountains.”  The wife, Diana, has bi-polar disorder, has been medicated for years, and in that song is longing for the feelings she used to have as she experienced the highs and lows, including the feeling of  “wandering through the wilderness.”

It was interesting to have her words in my mind as I revisited this week’s Torah portion where Hagar gets cast with her son from Abraham’s home into the wilderness.  Genesis 21:14 “She went and she wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.”

What is this “wilderness?”  Why does Diana long for it, while in Hagar’s story, it seems like such a lonely and undesirable place?  A friend recently posted a quote on Facebook, “At least pain is real. I mean you look around you see nothing is real, but at least the pain is real” (from the movie Pump Up the Volume.)  Ah, this what I think Diana means when she sings, “I miss the mountains, I miss the pain.” Diana misses what felt real to her.  She tells us so when she sings, “Everything is balanced here, and on an even keel. Everything is perfect, nothing’s real.”

Certainly, what Hagar experiences in the wilderness is real pain as well. With no water left, she places her child at a distance from herself unable to watch the child die from thirst. While the text tells us that God responds to the cries of the boy, God does so by opening her eyes.

Every year, I am drawn to this phrase, “opened her eyes” (Genesis 21:18) and what it suggests.  If her eyes only needed to be opened, then maybe there was something to be seen that she just wasn’t seeing?  The text doesn’t say that God placed a well in front of her, the text says that “God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water.” This phrase always suggests to me that there are always more possibilities available if we could only open our eyes and see them.

Maybe I am drawn to this phrase because I know those moments of living in the real, the real pain, the real uncertainty, the real loneliness of being in the desert.  Maybe I am drawn to this phrase because I love the suggestion that what seemed like a certain reality at one moment, can be shifted by changing one’s vantage point.  With our eyes opened, we may see something in our situation, in our wilderness that we hadn’t seen before.

Maybe this shift in perspective can only happen if we are living in what feels real, and when we are in the wilderness, accepting the pain and the uncertainty.  Maybe it is when we try so hard to change our reality, that we miss opportunities for seeing it with new eyes and discovering new possibilities.

Lech L’cha

When have you embarked on a experience that led you not only towards a destination or goal but to a  discovery about yourself as well?

In this week’s Torah portion we read the iconic words that God says to Abram (not yet Abraham) Lech L’cha – go forth (Genesis 12:1). Simple words that can speak to us on many levels at once.

One of the wise teen students I teach commented in Torah study a few weeks ago that while the Torah doesn’t change from year to year, reading to reading, we do.  As I sit down to study this week’s Torah portion, I find myself once again drawn to the idea of a going forth, journeying, but in a new way.  A few days ago, I finished performing in a musical where I acted, sang and danced with love and joy onstage. Each time I inhabit a character and devote love to her relationships and her life, I come to feel connected to her. Each time I say good bye to her, her nightly journey and to the relationships she cared about, I experience the sense of loss of those loves and relationships in some way as my own.

The rehearsal and performing period itself was a journey, but more than that it is a process of discovering what I can do, what parts of me find expression when given the lens of a new character.

Rabbinic commentaries teach us that the preposition added at the end of the command,  the “lecha” to yourself, that follows the verb “Lech,” go”  is there to add a figurative dimension to the journey. This isn’t only a journey of moving from one place to another, but a metaphorical and metaphysical journey as well. Abram’s journey is moving from a world that interacts with God in one way to a world that conceives of God and interacts with God in a whole different way. Even more so, it is a journey into himself, a journey of self discovery. Lech L’cha is the start of a journey that is as much an inward journey as it journeys outwards.

At this moment, while I look backwards to something that has passed, there is a sense of growth and of movement forward. Reflecting upon what lingers in the aftermath of the show, the new friends, the new accomplishments, I sense an expansion of myself.  Elements of who I am showed up and grew through the filter of the character, and those parts of myself are now more open and available for me to see and access. I not only journeyed through the process of putting together a show, but I went into myself, and discovered new depths for feeling joy, love and compassion.

What journey geographical, metaphorical, metaphysical have you had recently that gave you an opportunity to learn more about yourself, to discover you frontiers and to challenge yourself to expand just a little?