In this community member blog, Lois Kimmel reflects on a summer journey to the Appalachian Mountains, trust, and going forth into the unknown.
“God said to Avram, ‘Go forth from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’” –Genesis 12:1
This week’s parsha (weekly Torah reading), Lech Lecha, means “go forth.” It reveals the story of a profound journey. In Genesis 12, we are introduced to the founder of Jewish tradition, Abraham. The parsha begins with God telling Abraham to leave everything he knows and “lech” – “go forth” – to “the land that I will show you.”
I imagine this was scary for Abraham, leaving behind all that he was comfortable with to go toward something he didn’t know anything about. Abraham must have had some trust, whether in God or in himself, that ultimately it would be worth going to a place he had never been to before.
Just like Abraham, we, too, may find ourselves on a journey toward the unknown while leaving what’s familiar behind. Maybe we’re going through a transition, like moving to a new place, starting a new job, or beginning a new relationship. Just like Abraham, we know what we are leaving behind, but we have no idea where we are going. We don’t know what will come from our journey but, for better or worse (hopefully the better!), we’re compelled to make it.
I want to share what I learned from a recent journey of mine.
This summer, I went on my first backpacking trip through the Appalachian Mountains with an organization called Lech Lecha, which organizes camping trips for young adults across the country. It was a multi-day hike that culminated in Shabbat. The organization is all about empowering people to go on outdoor adventures while guiding them with personal and spiritual development, a connection with nature, and building joyful community through Jewish life.
Backpacking in the woods with complete strangers was both a physical and mental journey for me. I didn’t know what to expect from a backpacking trip. I left the comfort of urban DC to hike someplace unknown. I didn’t know how I would get along with the other participants or what it would be like to observe Shabbat together in the mountains.
Lech lecha. Go forth.
We carried everything we needed for the week on our backs. We hiked six or seven miles each day over steep slopes and slippery rocks. Each night, we set up camp — pitching tents, building fires, refilling water from a creek, and cooking dinner. At one point, I felt so sore from the day’s hike that my legs tingled! I sat in my tent crying and wanting to go home. I didn’t know if I would be able to continue along the journey to our next camp site. But, Abraham did not go on his journey alone (oh hey, Sarah!). And neither did I. With help from the other caring and compassionate participants, I was able to summon the strength to continue along our journey. They took some of the weight from my backpack, walked slower with me, and we distracted each other with thought-provoking conversations.
It was hard. It was unknown. But, I ultimately had to trust that we would make it to the next campsite in time for Shabbat.
And we made it. I think Shabbat, a full day of rest, is magical. Shabbat in the woods is somehow even more magical. With Lech Lecha, Shabbat was about soaking in the journey we had just embarked on. We built an eruv, a delineated space that would encompass us throughout Shabbat, and prepared our meals and water for the weekend. We welcomed Shabbat with prayer and song around a diminishing campfire. On Saturday we took a long, slow hike and sat by a creek. We continued conversations we had started on the hike. And finally, we said goodbye to Shabbat with a concluding havdalah ritual.
Journeys from the comfortable to the unknown sometimes require trust in your companions. Other times, those journeys require a simple leap of faith. This summer, I learned that even after you take a leap, if the companions you’re going forth with are the right ones for you, trust can be cultivated and deepened with every step along the way.
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