The cover of the book “The Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”
Many stories have been written about journeys of self-discovery. As a boy, I was fascinated by the travels of Robert Pirsig (author of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”) with his son, riding on the back of a heavy motorcycle, crossing American side roads and with expansive views of an endless horizon, asking to discover hidden qualities; to rediscover what he had lost. I dreamed that I, too, would one day ride a motorbike on the same roads on such a journey of discovery. But everyone has their own path to themselves. Rabbi Yishai Ron’s dvar torah on parashat “Lech Lecha.’
By Rabbi Yishai Ron
In his book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” Pirsig quotes the well-known American philosopher H.D.Thoreau, “There is no man who gains something without losing something else.” A true journey involves the loss of something I had but also the assurance of encountering something else I did not know. Such a journey will become possible if I will be ready to leave the sure and expected. One must not flinch from going on an unstable course, sometimes marshy and threatening, fall, get up and fall again. And nevertheless, to keep your gaze far away on the hidden horizon, for a new meaning to life, and continue.
Avram was commanded to go! To leave everything he knew and to go… by himself, alone. Only by going, alone, could he get close to himself, form his own path; Spin a story that no man had ever told. The inner voice that commanded Abram – “lech lecha” motivated Abram to throw out everything that was false in his life; to remove social conventions and superstitions which grant eternal value to things which are finite and partial [this is the meaning of idol-worship], and to set out on a journey in search of the first source – “the divine spark” which dwells in the roots of his being, the pure foundation of his existence – the existence of the world.
Destructive centralization in Biblical times
Rabbi Hirsch continues: The isolation that was imposed on Abraham put him in complete opposition to his era. There were no individual values – just government centralization – this was the spirit of his generation, that began with the building of a magnificent building under the slogan “Let us make us a name” [the building of the Tower of Babel]. Thus men had their individual value taken away; and in the end it became an instrument, a brick in a splendid building apparently representing the public. This spirit nourishes a false belief in the unique authority of the majority.
Rabbi Hirsch’s description of Abram’s world - a world of destructive conformity, where the individual disappears under the tyranny of the majority – emphasizes the uniqueness of Abram – Abram the rebel!
(And it is impossible to avoid comparing Abram the rebel and “The Rebel” of Albert Camus, who cannot bear his absurd existence and demands solidarity and compassion.)
Abram the rebel is also the “father of the nation.” And the disturbing question arises: assuming we are dealing with a myth, why did the Biblical author choose Abram the rebel, a nomadic stranger (and, it should be said, a strange man) to be the father of the nation? Why is the story of the origins of our people a story of being a stranger and lacking a feeling of belonging? The Jewish myth could have been established to resemble the established myths of other peoples – myths that create an affinity between a people and their land (the autochthonous myth)? It is possible to tell about the father of the nation who was born in this land and was fed native wolf’s milk (like the story of Romus and Remulus, the founders of Rome), or the story of the earliest ancestor who was born from the local soil, like the story of the founding of Athens.
But no, our story is different: Abram, the father of our people, was born in another country, he set out on a mission and came to the land of Canaanas a stranger. He did not come as “the owner” – claiming ownership from God, and did not assert “I deserve this.” Abram conducted himself modestly, and was willing to give up territory for the sake of peace with his brothers (in Genesis XII) “And Abram said unto Lot:”Let there be no strife , I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we are brethren: Is not the whole land before thee? Separate thyself, I pray thee, from me; if thou will take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” Abraham behaved the same way in the parasha “Chayye Sarah,” when he turned to the children of Heth with a request to buy a plot of land for his wife’s grave, saying: (Genesis, XXIII) “I am a stranger and a sojourner with you,” and paid the full price… Today, so it seems, Abram would be seen as an appeaser, “noble-minded” and not loyal enough to his country. And us?… We have come very far from the image of Abram the stranger.
If you found this story important/shocking/touching, and you want to help us to change the situation, please donate here and strengthen the Jewish voices that see in every human being the image of God.