Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
The familiar, haunting cadence began echoing in my mind shortly after my son Ari dropped his bombshell. It was in January, 2010, when he told me of his decision to make aliyah with his family. My initial reaction was a resolve to retain as much of my serenity as I could and not overreact. After all, I consoled myself, I’m not really losing a son … I’m losing a son … a daughter-in-law … and three grandchildren!!!
But, in short time, I regained composure and turned to the reliable methods I had learned in dealing with life’s challenges. I turned to God, to my loved ones, and to my inner self for comfort and guidance. Doing so, I kept hearing this stirring, awe- inspiring refrain—that rhythmic ominous precursor that seems to get repeated whenever God sends Abraham a life-altering challenge.
For me, the beauty of our immersion in Torah lies in its perennial repetition. We continue the cycle primarily for the experience of seeing something new and unpredictable with each retelling. I had heard the words of this heavenly direction so many times since childhood. Within them lies the seed of our history; the words that set in motion the events leading to our formation as the Jewish people. Over the years, I have looked at them from many different angles, always stirred with newly found inspiration. But never did I consider this divine challenge from the perspective with which I was now seeing it.
What does this mean for Terach—Abraham’s father—from whom Abraham was called upon to liberate and find a new life? There I was—not in Haran but in Teaneck, New Jersey—hearing my son repeat what might have been a verbatim account of a discussion Abraham had with his father in ancient Mesopotamia four millennia earlier. Yet I found myself unable to channel old Terach or relate to how that idol-worshipping pagan may have reacted. Rather, I chose to focus on my own feelings and—to the best of my ability—project the way God would prefer that I react.
I began to suspect that God’s command to Abraham on that day is an eternal message for every generation. Hadn’t I heard and followed a similar one in my adolescence … and beyond? Don’t I continue along this path even now, three years after my own father’s passing? Don’t we all? I realized that at some point, on some level (actual or metaphorical), all children must go forth “for themselves” … to the place that God shows them.
Seeing the issue through this prism, I was better able to process the life-altering events Ari and I now faced together. I managed to tell him how sad I felt and how much I would miss him, his lovely wife, and their beautiful children. I spoke of the pride that I felt for his strength, his courage, and his faith and—most of all—how much I loved him.
As I watched my children boarding their Nefesh B’Nefesh charter on August 2, I felt the acute pain, pride, and joy of this enormous (involuntary) contribution I was making to the State of Israel. And I thought with fear and dread of the far greater sacrifices they, along with the rest of our parents, siblings, and children in Israel, seem destined to continue to make for the foreseeable future. Through my tears, I prayed for peace in a kavannah and an intensity I didn’t know I had in me.