“To Boldly Go” – Shabbat Lech Lecha, Friday, October 15, 2021

Captain’s Log, Stardate 11-13-2021

The recorded response of Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise – also known as actor William Shatner, who on Wednesday boldly went where no one his age has gone before, as one of four passengers who reached just into space in the Blue Origin New Shepard rocket.

“What you have given me is the most profound experience,” Shatner told Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos after landing back in the Texas desert. “I hope I never recover from this. I hope that I can maintain what I feel now. I don’t want to lose it.”[1]

Shatner’s ten-minute flight — including a few fleeting moments floating in zero-gravity – did just reach into the final frontier, 66 miles up from earth and four miles beyond what is considered the edge of space. It may have been akin to the blink of an eye compared to the career Shatner has had playing Captain Kirk on a Hollywood soundstage since 1966. But the power of the blast-off, the view of the earth from above, and the miracle of a safe and soft landing was obviously and deeply profound.

“To boldly go where no man has gone before . . .” Even those of us who grew up on Star Trek in all its incarnations will always hear Shatner’s voice speaking those words in the original series intro. And how timely it was that he should fulfill that mission for himself during the week when the Torah gives us a story about another powerful journey that carries its own cosmic importance.

Lech lecha, God says to the Chaldean man Avram, son of Haran. “Go forth from your native land, from the land of your birth, from the house of your father, to the land that I will show you.”

Lech lecha. What a curious and unique command. Not just lech – “Go!” – but Lecha lecha. “Betake yourself.” “Go for yourself.” Some commentators dismiss it as an idiom, a mere feature of the Hebrew language.

But we want more. We look for a deeper message. After all, as author Aviva Zornberg points out: “For the first time [in the Torah], a journey is undertaken, not as an act of exile (Adam, Cain) or a quest for domination (the generation of Babel) but as a response to a divine imperative.”[2]

And so the Midrash gives us the gift of this inherent meaning: “Lech Lecha: Go forth to find your authentic self, to learn who you are meant to be.”[3]

But there’s a twist: God does not call Avram by name. His calling is unique, and the details of his journey intensely personal. But the call is not inherently his alone. And so we are free to imagine ourselves as the one being called. We may well see ourselves in Avram’s place, feeling the urge – the necessity — at some point in our lives to boldly go where we have never gone before, feeling that the time and the travel are right.

Many of us left the places where we were born and where we grew up long ago. We have journeyed across the country, or even around the world. We go for love, we go for professional challenges, we go for the sheer adventure of going.

Some of us go when we are young, with nothing holding us back or keeping us in place. Some of us change the trajectory of our lives when we are older. Maybe not 75 like Avram, or 90 like William Shatner – but old enough to know that the chance to boldly go doesn’t happen every day. We seize the chance and embrace the unknown.

Today, our country is filled with travelers doing just that. They pack up and go. As Abby Vesoulis wrote this week in Time Magazine, “If April 2020 was the month of pink slips – as the rapid spread of COVID-19 resulted in the loss of 20.5 million jobs – then Fall 2021 is the dawn of their revenge. A record breaking 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs in August across an array of industries . . . meanwhile, the 7.7 million people who remain unemployed aren’t, for the most part, jumping at the roughly 10.4 million job openings.”[4]

A lot of people are just fed up with their nasty, back-breaking jobs and lousy working conditions. With low wages and unaffordable child care weighing on them, as former Labor Secretary Robert Reich put it, “Workers are burned out. They’re fed up. They’re fried. In the wake of so much hardship, and illness and death during the past year, they’re not going to take it anymore.”[5]

For these travelers, the pandemic has been a stark reminder of the hardness and fragility of life that Captain Kirk saw passing by him out the window of the Blue Origin capsule this week:

“To see the blue color whip by you and now you’re staring into blackness,” Shatner reflected back on earth. “In an instant, you go, ‘Whoa, that’s death.’ That’s what I saw.”[6]

I always wonder what blackness Avram must have seen in his life to be so utterly and immediately willing to boldly go on God’s command. Was it the pointless idolatry that surrounded him in Haran – his friends and family worshiping imagines that they had carved with their own hands? Was there hunger? Violence? Or did he simply lift up his eyes, as he would when God sent him on the next part of his journey, and see that blue sky calling him out of the blackness?

Avram would lech lecha, go forth to find himself in a place where his gifts would flourish. He would be tutored by the land and the trees. He would learn from the sky and from the voice that called to him out of the heavens.

We, too, learn and grow and change and dare from so many influences in our lives: The people we meet. The people we love. The books we read. The flavors we eat. The colors at which we marvel. And, especially lately, the air we breathe, the smiles we reflect, and the care we give to one another. The very power of being able to awaken each day. These are the gifts that we learn never to take for granted.

Some of us “betake ourselves” to lands unknown. But even for those of us who find these gifts in the immediate vicinity where we grew up, every day offers us challenges and opportunities. Life is not static, anywhere we are.

Change is an integral part of life. We can try to resist it. Or we can “boldly go” – as our ancestors did – to become the people God meant us to be.

Ken yehi ratson. Be this God’s will and our mission on earth, and to the final frontier. As we say together: Amen.

###

©2021 Audrey R. Korotkin


[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/10/13/shatner-blue-origin-space-tourism/

[2] Aviva Zornberg, as quoted in the footnotes for Genesis 12:1 in Etz Hayim Torah and Commentary (New York: The Rabbinical Assembly, 2001), p. 70.

[3] Mei Ha-Shi-lo-ah, as quoted in the footnotes for Genesis 12:1 in Etz Hayim, loc. cit.

[4] https://time.com/6106322/the-great-resignation-jobs/

[5] Ibid.

[6] From the Associated Press article datelined Van Horn, Texas, published in Altoona Mirror for Thursday, October 14, 2021, page C-1.

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