At one stage or another in our lives, we’ve all experienced the feeling of being stuck in a rut. Today, students are finding themselves falling further behind in their education, some of us are in jobs that have grown more taxing with the weight of the pandemic, and conversations about “getting back to normal” feel tired and out of touch. We may look around at our lives—our careers, social circles, or even just our ages—and feel like something is missing. And while we may feel more than capable of recognizing that we are ready for change, doing something about it often feels less accessible.
How do we get out of a rut? How do we make changes in our lives when we are ready for whatever is next? The answer to this question is never straightforward, but we can turn to Avraham Avinu, our patriarch Abraham, for some inspiration.
Given his tremendous importance in our tradition, Abraham’s introduction in this week’s parashah is unusual. At the end of parashat Noah we are told of his lineage and where his family settles, but we learn nothing of his childhood, adolescence, or even the majority of his adulthood. In fact, because of how much we know about Abraham’s descendants, his introduction to us as the readers—and to God—is surprisingly abrupt. We read in the opening verses of the parashah that Avraham first interacts with God at 75 years old. At an age and stage where he has lived a full life, his first interaction with God is when he hears God call out to him “Lekh Lekha.”—“you are to go to the land that I will show you.”
Why does God not call out to Abraham at an earlier point in his life? Why doesn’t the parashah tell us what happened in his first 75 years that merits his encounter with the Divine? The great Hasidic scholar the Sfat Emet is interested in this question as well. He explains that it is less important to focus on what Avraham had been up to and what he had achieved in his time on earth—rather, we should instead consider the fact that he was listening and ready to heed the call.
In the same verse that we read that he was 75 years old, we also learn that Avraham began this journey into a new land and into a deeper relationship with God accompanied by his nephew Lot. Despite receiving this calling from God all by himself, Avraham was not afraid to ask for help from a loved one to take the next step into the unknown.
We can learn from the language the Torah uses as well. By following the shoresh (root of a word) “hay lamed khaf” (“to go”), the verb God uses with Avraham when commanding him “Lekh Lekha,” we find that our tradition teaches us a few different paradigms about how to take a next step. For some of us, we are like Avraham, ready to listen to whatever calls to us and comfortable with asking for help. Perhaps others of us are more like our matriarch Rivkah, who, later in the Torah, is given a choice from her family about whether she will return with Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, to marry Abraham’s son, Isaac. In response, she offers “Eilekh”—“I will go.” She asserts her agency and and shows us that sometimes we can be our own motivation to move forward. Or maybe we are like Ruth, who in Megillat Ruth tells her mother-in-law, Naomi, “El asher telchi, eilekh”—“wherever you go, I will go.” Ruth demonstrates that for some of us to take our next step, we must follow the lead of another.
Avraham, Rivkah, and Ruth teach us that there is no one single way to take the next step, to break out of a rut, or to respond to our calling. And for those of us who feel daunted by this three-year hiatus in living a life according to previous plans, Avraham teaches us that it is never too late to take the next step. Whether it is with the support of a loved one, an act of independence, or taking the lead of a trusted leader or advisor, may we be blessed to hear God calling out to us, and find meaning as we take the next step in our own spiritual journeys.