“Turn right at the pond with the ducks,” said the voice on the phone.
“What if the ducks aren’t there?” I asked.
“Don’t worry,” said the voice laughing, “you’ll find us.”
The house I wanted to visit was in the countryside, a good hour from me. I spent the entire drive worrying about the ducks, wondering what I’d do if they’d been startled and flown away, and how long I would have to drive around the Maryland countryside, looking for a wayward flock of ducks.
Every time I read this week‘s Torah portion, in which God says to Abraham, “Lech l’cha, get yourself up and go to a land that I will show you,” I think about those ducks. No AAA triptik, no Waze, no ducks. Abraham had only the commandment to get up and go.
That’s pretty serious chutzpah on God‘s part, and deep faith on Abraham’s. Was this the first of the many trials with which God would test Abraham? If so, he passed.
To his credit, Abraham did as he was told. But my favorite part of the story is that he actually did more than God commanded. The commandment was lech l’cha, a phrase that means much than its usual translation, which is simply go. It literally means “go for/to yourself.”
Abraham decided that it didn’t mean just himself. He took his wife Sarah, nephew Lot, and many others along with him. He brought money, possessions, provisions. He didn’t know the route, but he knew he was in for a long trip, with an as yet unknown destination, and he knew better than to try to go alone.
I am always interested by the fact that God was OK with that. God didn’t seem to mind that Abraham added his own ideas to the commandment, that he did it in his own way, in a way that would make him comfortable, give him companionship, keep him safe.
He depended on his wife Sarah quite a bit during their journeys, and I sometimes wonder how the Akedah, the near sacrifice of Isaac on Mt. Moriah, would have turned out if he had brought her along then too.
The Unitarian minister Robert Fulghum famously wrote a list of things he learned in kindergarten, which he believes are important to remember throughout our lifetimes. Among them is: “When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.”
Whether you’ve got ducks as a signpost or no signage at all, it’s good advice. It was true in kindergarten, true for Abraham and Sarah, true for us today.