I flew nearly two thousand miles to be here with you this Shabbat.
That statement is miraculous, both for the distance covered and for the means of travel.
Before I changed careers three years ago, I could count on ONE hand the number of times I’d flown in an airplane in my entire life.
Since dedicating myself to the work of Jewish education and music, I have now lost count of the number of times I’ve flown.
And yet, I make an effort with each flight to do two things: to recite the Traveler’s prayer before every take-off; and to remind myself of just how amazing it is to fly though the air.
I say the prayer because, well, anytime I set out on a journey I cannot completely predict the outcome. Saying the prayer doesn’t necessarily protect me from that uncertainty, but it does help me to put it into perspective so I can travel without completely losing my nerve, without being ruled by any fears I may have. When you name things — including your fears — they lose some of their power.
And even now, three years and many airplane trips later, I still make it a point to stop whatever I’m doing and look out the window as the airplane lifts into the skies. Because I never want to take that awesomeness for granted. Because even now, more than a century after the Wright Brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk, it IS STILL amazing and a little unbelievable, that human beings can fly thousands of feet above the earth, traveling through the air at speeds that were inconceivable to our great-grandparents.
At the dawn of the automotive age, which began a few decades before the age of flight, automobiles were little more than noisy playthings of the wealthy. The gas-powered internal combustion engines of the 1880’s belched black smoke and backfired loudly every few hundred feet as they sped along at an unheard-of ten miles an hour, frightening horses and competing for limited road space with bicyclists and pedestrians. The first cars must have been simultaneously fascinating and a little terrifying to the general population.
We can go back earlier and earlier, to the beginnings of each progression in human transport — bicycles, horse-drawn carriages, all the way back to when the wheel was first invented, and a farmer could use a crude cart to haul his crops to market, or to haul his possessions away from a war-torn territory and, hopefully, towards safety.
At the beginning of each of these phases of development, a world of possibilities lay unknown before us. In many cases, we built the machine before we knew what it might be truly capable of, or how it might ultimately transform our lives.
Martin Buber once said, “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”
When I first came here in June 2013, hired as the music specialist for Machane Jehudah, I had no idea how things would go. The camp itself was entering its second year, and some of the things students in the program now take for granted were just being developed then. And I only knew ONE person here when I arrived. As with all journeys, things unfolded over time. I made new friends, fell in love with the students, and at the end of my monthlong residency Rabbi Nemitoff asked me if I might come back again before the summer ended. So I did, to our mutual delight, and that was the beginning, as Bugs Bunny would say, of a “bee-yoo-tee-full’ friendship.
Our portion says that God appeared to Abram, and told him his life would change course. Abram would go where God would direct him, and as a result of following God’s directions, Abram would become the father of a great nation, his descendants more numerous than the stars. Imagine how Abram might have felt, being asked to step into the unknown — to leave what was familiar and go somewhere totally new. Granted, he did take along quite an entourage of relatives and livestock — but he was still going somewhere where he’d be a stranger, an unknown quantity to those he encountered.
Many of us are familiar with the interpretation of the words “lech l’cha” as meaning, “Go to your self”. Go to something new that will encourage — or compel — you to enlarge your vision, to expand your skills and knowledge, to step out of your comfort zone.
In our highly mobile age, we are constantly struggling between opposing forces that challenge us to dare bigger, or invite us to stay where we are. There are positive and negative aspects to both directions. Every choice has its upside, and its price.
How does taking a leap of faith affect our relationships with those closest to us? How does it affect where and how we live? Where and how our children are educated, and what opportunities we provide — or deny — them, as a result of taking that leap? The answers are different for each of us. And it may not always be the right time to move in a new direction. But life will present each of us with an opportunity when it IS right to go forward — to something unknown and without guarantees — more than once. How will we respond? How do we move through the stuck-ness of our fears? How do we name our fears so that they will hold less power over us, so we can move forward to the place we ought to be?
Given the choice of remaining where I was three years ago, stuck in an industry and a life I felt I was outgrowing, or taking a huge risk and stepping off into the great unknown of a new career (though not a new calling), I knew that the risk of falling flat on my face was real, and very close at hand. Still, I decided that if I was going to take the chance, it had to be right there and then — or I’d never work up the courage to do it later on. I took a chance. In the three years since, I have known many ups and downs professionally and personally, and I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel across the country and meet amazing, generous, wonderful people who have shown me what might be possible — and who have confirmed that, regardless of the struggles, I’ve made the right choice. People like all of you. I am grateful that my decision has brought me to a place and to friends who constitute a home away from home for me, a place I look forward to visiting, God willing, again and again.