By Mark S. Young
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
– Langston Hughes, poet and playwright (1902-1967)
I’ve always been fascinated by blessings and their relationship to journeys, whether a physical journey (which we aren’t doing too much of these days), a spiritual journey, or an emotional journey. Journeys can also take us in pursuit of a dream or life-goal, a partner, a new career, or an undiscovered passion.
Journeys are meant to be blessings, yet they also possess risk: I could lose my bags on the flight! I may uncover difficult emotions I don’t want to process! My new relationship or position or venture may not be successful! So much can go wrong when we venture out, especially now, during these difficult days. Why take the risk?
I believe the answer is found in this week’s Torah portion, Lech L’cha (Genesis 12:1-17:27).
The parashah begins when the Eternal says to Abram, whose name would later be changed to Abraham, when he covenants with God to become the first patriarch of the Jewish people:
“Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, And I will bless you; I will make your name great, And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse him that curses you, And all the families of the earth Shall bless themselves by you.” (Genesis 12:1-3)
Rashi, the most famous of Torah commentators, suggests that Abram being asked to take a journey can result in “a decrease (break up) of family life, a reduction of wealth, and a reduction of renown (status).” In other words, there is risk. Things can go wrong. Therefore, God offers Abram three blessings that will mitigate the risk of leaving home. God blesses him “with the promise of children (a great nation), wealth, and a great name.” (Genesis Rabbah 39.11)
Abram and his wife Sarai (who later would become Sarah, our first matriarch) embark on a journey to Canaan (present day Israel) that is not without risk or turbulence. Yet Abram chose to take the journey, have an adventure, and follow God (which today might be considered akin to following one’s heart or intuition). He didn’t stay put and play it safe, and he indeed was blessed; he became the parent of a new people and was blessed with family, wisdom, and love.
We are living through a time of unique challenge—for each of us individually and for our Jewish Community Centers and Jewish Community Camps (JCCs). Although it is a time to be careful and to assess risk thoughtfully, we cannot avoid our personal journeys or put our dreams on hold. Pursuing these paths may be risky, may be turbulent, but just like Abram, our journeys will be full of blessings—for ourselves and for others.
So be careful out there on your journeys, wear you mask, stay physically distant, and wash your hands. But as Hughes advises us, don’t let those dreams go and don’t let them die. Take the journey, have the adventure, follow your heart. You will be blessed, and you will be a blessing to others.