Interesting, how people journey — almost aimlessly — yet en route encounter their kismet
“And G-d said to Abram: ‘Go forth, for your [best interest], from your land and from the place of your birth and from the house of your father to the land I will show you.’”
— Gen. 12:1
Our Torah reading this week begins with G-d bringing Abram to an unknown destination, leading him away from the security of his childhood home, family, and the community where he grew up. He will encounter people and a culture foreign to the core of his being. He will not haveparents nearby to babysit. In admittedly anachronistic terms, his favorite corner candy store, the newspaper stand down the block, the neighborhood ice cream truck and its jingle will be gone. The friends with whom he played childhood games — gone. The streets and avenues, the architectural styles, the local landmarks — gone. His childhood — gone.
At G-d’s direction, he is abandoning everything he knows, the anchor of his security. And he is proceeding, with only G-d as his GPS guide, to encounter his destiny.
Abram soon will plant new roots in the Promised Land, but he never will assimilate the locals or their culture. Although they will deem him a great man — the Canaanite Hittites will call him “a Prince of G-d in our midst” (Gen. 23:6) — Abra[ha]m ultimately will insist, years later, that he wants his son Isaac to marry a girl from the Old Country, back across the river, and definitely not a Canaanite. When he will send his manservant and major domo, Eliezer the Damascene, decades later to find a wife for Isaac, Abra[ha]m will instruct him: “[S]wear that . . . you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell. Rather, travel to my land and to my place of birth [to] take a wife for my son Isaac.” (24:3-8)
And yet G-d set Abra[ha]m’s destiny in Canaan, the Promised Land.
Abra[ha]m’s experience is not unique. Throughout our generations, the Divine leads people on journeys that just-so-happen to bring them frontally facing their destiny. Thus, the manservant Eliezer just-so-happens to encounter Rebecca, an atypically kind, even altruistic, young lady eager to draw heavy buckets of water both for the thirsty traveling servant and, even more strikingly, for his camels. Eliezer rapidly discerns that Hashem has brought him face-to-face with precisely the woman he prayed he would find for Isaac. (24:12-27)
A generation later, Jacob will be compelled to flee for his life, avoiding a vengeful brother set on murdering him. Of all the watering holes in the Middle East, he will find himself at the well where, moments later, the young Rachel is about to arrive to quench her father’s sheep. (29:9-11)
Generations later, it is young Moses of Egypt. Fleeing a Pharaoh determined to execute him for his having killed a murderous Egyptian taskmaster, Moses just-so-happens to arrive at a well where the daughters of Midian’s High Priest are about to arrive with their flock. From the resulting encounter that ensues, he not only marries Tziporah but gains a father-in-law who is theologically renowned and skilled with managerial experience that will prove critical later for Moses’ mission as teacher and judge. (Exodus 2:15-21; 18:17-24).
Interesting — how people journey, almost aimlessly, yet en route to encounter their Divine destiny. In fiction and film, we recall Humphrey Bogart’s great movie tag-line, as Rick Blaine in “Casablanca” contemplates the unexpected return of Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa Lund into his life: “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”
But the Torah is real life. And so is yours.
I look back on twists and turns in my life. I am a kid from Brooklyn and remain thoroughly a New Yorker. Though two decades in California, I still shamelessly root for the Yankees and Mets, football Giants and Jets, pronounce “Rhonda” with a Brooklyn “R” added to the end of the word, and compensate by deleting the “R’ at the end of “sister.” (Like any New Yawkuh in Califawnia, I note that our Govuhnuh speaks with an accent.) But my Brooklyn life took its unexpected turns, and California is the well where G-d brought me to chart a significant portion of my life and career. Looking back at each step that took me along that path, each turn could have led me instead to a different gin joint. But it was here, in California’s Southland, that I heeded Yogi Berra’s sage advice: “When you come to the fork in the road — take it.” As a result, I found my wife here, helped found a yeshiva and two synagogues as a rabbi on the West Coast, became an attorney and practiced and still teach law here, and have been honored to touch and engage three Jewish communities throughout the Southland as their spiritual leader.
Are you sure that your life has been all that different? How did you end up in the community where you live? How did you encounter the one who most impacted your life? How did you meet your spouse? How did you end up working where you do?
In Greater Los Angeles, most L.A. Jews trace our and our parents’ roots back elsewhere. Some of us came here from the East Coast or the Midwest for job opportunities. Some from Iran or the former Soviet Union fleeing persecution. Some from Israel. Some came here to connect with siblings or childhood friends. We had dreams, hopes — and we thought those motivators were the only reasons we came here. Yet, looking back, perhaps ten years later, perhaps half a century, we experience an awe that seizes us with a private and deep humility. It is the awe that one feels when he suddenly divines the Divine and His ways, realizing that something far deeper was unfolding in his life than he ever realized. Who knew, when Joseph’s brothers sold him into ignominious slavery, that he was en route to becoming the Egyptian Viceroy who would save his family from a devastating famine? And did he himself fully realize, as Rabbi Avigdor Miller has noted, that his role as Viceroy was subtext to the greater purpose of bringing the entire Jewish people into Egypt so that the seeds could be planted for establishing the foundation that would lead to the miracles of the Exodus and the Divine Revelation at Mount Sinai?
In each of our respective lives and their unexpected turns, too, maybe — just maybe — there was higher purpose, the unanticipated destiny to which G-d Almighty was leading each of us, each on our respective journeys. Perhaps the job that drew us to move the family soon fell through. Maybe the relative who drew us to Chicago moved further West or back East. The friend with whom we partnered in business had a falling-out years ago, and the business floundered. And yet, having moved, we proceeded to chart some of our lives’ greatest achievements. We met new friends, found new opportunities, saw our children flourish in ways we did not expect.
We did so, far away from our lands, birth places, and parents’ homes. We walked with G-d, journeying towards a well He had prepared for us. From Abram’s journey this week to our own, we have come to see — even through disappointments and setbacks along the way — that, when journeying to the well where G-d has set our destiny, all’s well that ends well.Share