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"Gosh, I don't know, I'll have to think about that..."

10/14/2021 09:43:08 AM


Rabbi Steven Folberg

Happy Thursday, Everyone,

In Saturday morning's Torah portion, Lech Lecha, meaning, "go forth," God famously instructs Abram and his wife, Sarai, "Go forth from your land, your birthplace and your ancestral home (literally, "your father's house") to the land that I will show you."

We experience many kinds of leave-taking in the course of a lifetime. And as it was for Abram and Sarai, so it is for us. The destination – "the land that I will show you" – is never entirely certain, nor is our safe arrival guaranteed. But sometimes we come to know, on a deep level, that change is needed if we are going to grow. Change is hard. Uncertainty is hard. But, as our Mishkan Tefillah prayer book tells us in one of its readings for Shabbat morning, "We don't like leaving, but God loves becoming."

Some acts of going forth, of leaving, involve suitcases, moving vans and road trips or airplane rides. Other journeys are journeys of the mind, heart and soul – internal journeys, if you will.

Rabbi Alan Lew, of blessed memory, reflects on one kind of inner journey in his wonderful book, Be Still and Get Going. It is the journey of leaving behind our well-worn, familiar narratives, ideas and preconceptions. He suggests that we occasionally designate a period of time, a few days, perhaps, when we resolve to respond to every request for our opinion about something by saying, "Gosh, I'm not sure! I'll have to think about that…"

He warns that this practice is likely to leave other people puzzled and even frustrated, but it's worth the effort. The point is that we all have a tendency to keep endlessly repeating the same answers, especially if the reply is a clever retort that I came up with nine years ago and have been repeating unquestioningly ever since! But this can leave us stuck in the past, unable to "go forth" and grow.

In this regard, our prayer book is absolutely correct when it says, "we don't like leaving." Questioning our old, comfortable answers, our well-worn way of looking at the world, generates intense emotional and intellectual discomfort. But there is no growth without "going forth" from the safe, familiar confines of "the way I've always looked at this."

Where to start "going forth?" Try listening with genuine openness to someone who sees something important differently than you do, or whose live path has been very different than your own. Listen not only to their words, but to the experiences and emotions behind the words. Don't try to "fix them" or "set them straight." That kind of listening may launch you on your own journey of discovery.

I'll leave you with a couple of nuggets of Jewish wisdom to bring to this spiritual work:

"There is a reason that God gave you two ears and one mouth. Try listening twice as much as you talk.”

"The people who surround me are not flawed attempts at being me!"

Go forth from the comfort of what you've always thought and said… To the land that life, wisdom and experience will show you.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Steve Folberg


Mon, February 6 2023 15 Sh'vat 5783