I have a fondness for what nowadays is called vintage furniture. The internet quickly learned that about me. Consequently, every time I turn on my computer or go to Facebook I am bombarded with offers of vintage and antique furniture from local sellers.
As I read this week’s Torah portion, in which God told Abraham to leave his home and “go to a place that I will show you,” I looked around my own home and realized that were I asked to do the same, leaving would not be easy. My weakness is old chairs and especially rockers. I justify this by thinking that when the world opens up again, I’ll start holding classes in my home and there will be seating for everyone. In the meantime, I have plenty of seating options for myself.
Abraham’s problem wasn’t furniture, it was animals. As he and his nephew Lot became wealthier during their travels, it became apparent that they could not maintain their huge flocks without parting ways.
Lot chose the lush valley in which Sodom and Gomorrah lay, and Abraham went in the other direction. Some commentators like to point out that the sparring between their shepherds meant that Abraham and Lot weren’t getting along with each other either. I wonder though.
Family members often go in different directions. Better jobs and climates beckon. Some chafe at small town life, others hear the call of the countryside. And some of us simply want to spread our wings and try something new.
In many ways, we are nomads just as Abraham was. We wander from place to place, putting down roots, only to yank ourselves up again. In my adult life, I have lived in five states and many more homes. One of my daughters is still in her twenties and has already lived in five countries on three continents.
It seems likely that Abraham’s and Lot’s was an amicable parting, because just a few verses after they separated we read of a conflict between warring kings, in which Lot was taken prisoner. As soon as Abraham heard the news he headed off with an army of his own, and successfully rescued his nephew.
This is one of my favorite parts of Abraham’s story. It’s what families do for each other. Regardless of encumbrances — the number of chairs, or herds of cattle, or whatever else is holding us back — we jump at the opportunity to help each other.
Even in this time of enforced separation as we struggle through the limitations imposed by a pandemic, we find ways to reach out and support our families, both those we are born into and those we have created.
The communities to which we each belong are like extended families. I have my circles of friends, my synagogue, my neighborhood, my city. These are families of mutuality, sometimes of shared values and sometimes of shared geography.
When people in any of these families are in distress, I have a responsibility to respond. It could mean giving food to the local food bank or it could mean bringing soup to a sick neighbor.
I am deeply grateful for all of my communities, all of the families I have helped create. I have received far more than I have given.
When I think about God’s first command to Abraham, I remember that the first words are lech l’cha mayartz’cha, often translated as “take yourself out of your country.” But lech l’cha can also mean “go to yourself.”
Perhaps Abraham was being told much more than to simply get up and go. Perhaps God was also telling him to go inward, to explore his heart and his soul and discover who he truly was.
We too can look inward while looking outward, exploring both ourselves and the families with whom we have connected.
Take a moment. Ask, what do I care about? Who do I care about? And how can I be of service to those who need me?