I remember one clear moment when I knew I had found “my place.”
In my 4th year of rabbinic school I participated in a 5-day Jewish spirituality retreat.* We studied the Zohar’s interpretation of the Torah portion “Lech Lecha.” The Zohar, Judaism’s mystical interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, has a fascinating read on this text in Genesis.
It is in Lech Lecha where God (Divine Mystery) calls our ancestors Abraham and Sarah to “go forth”: – leave everything they know – to some unknown place they will be “shown.” (We read this chapter each year, and in fact, Jews around the world are reading it just this week.)
Responding To A Call: The Awakening
The decision to listen to this call, and to leave everything requires enormous trust, and yet the Zohar frames this story differently. The Zohar points out that Abraham had already been “on the move” and that God was right there, meeting him, responding to him, and confirming: Yes, Go.
Therefore, the Zohar points out, Abraham and Sarah possessed the internal desire to journey, as they had already physically left their birthplaces.
It was in that context, that God said to Abraham and Sarah: “Go forth.”
The Zohar comments – and listen to the intimate language it uses: “Until he (Abraham) first aroused himself, this (Lech Lecha) is not written.” [Zohar 1:77b]
Here’s what this means: It is our awakening that stimulates and arouses the Divine forces from above. This means that when we, as human beings, wake up, rouse ourselves to a possibility, God also awakens, and joins us. This idea is a primary principle in the Zohar, according to scholar Daniel Matt: “through arousal below there is arousal above.”**
When WE wake up to what we are being called to do, when we get in touch with the journey and dreams that are encoded within our souls – God unites with us to make it happen. In fact, the interplay between the Divine and human beings is not one-directional – it is a partnership.
Therefore, this teaching suggests that it is incumbent on US to listen to the stirrings of our own heart, and to get in touch with “what am I being called to do, or to be” and begin to move.
This Is The Place
As I studied this interpretation, I was moved to tears. This was the story of my life! At each point when I have been seeking, “something” (a teacher, a community, a book, a text) arrives as if to take me by the hand and answer: “Yes. Here’s the path….”
I remember exactly where I was sitting in that room that day when the amazing teacher Melila Hellner-Eshed taught this Zohar passage, and I recall saying to myself: THIS is what I’ve been searching for. Just This. THIS wisdom. THIS path. This teaching.
The teaching I received that day was not only the content of that particular study. It was also the grace-filled combination of gifted heart-based teachers, spiritual practices, fellow travelers on the same path, silence, poetry, and music.
I knew I had arrived at a special “place.” At a deep level, I also knew that I had found my particular vision and path as a rabbi. I wanted my work to be about blending Jewish wisdom with mindfulness and spirituality and to create a “place” of welcome and heart-space.
I left this retreat with this vision firmly planted in my soul. I knew that I would continue to Go Forth and that the journey was only beginning.
Since I’ve been ordained (in 2009) I have indeed created a non-traditional rabbinate, one that is welcoming to all, and that strives to offer gems and teachings like this one from Lech Lecha. I hope this inspires you to listen to the call of your soul as well, and find your place. Sometimes, your intention alone can begin your journey.
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*with the Institute for Jewish Spirituality
** Zohar, The Pritzker Edition, translated by Daniel Matt, page 6, Volume II