Our First Shabbat

By Jory Hanselman

This week, BaMidbar staff and students embarked on a journey, as year-round programming launched on Thursday, October 18th.  This week’s parsha, or Torah portion, also begins with a journey.  At God’s command, Abraham sets forth from the land of his father and all that he knows, to journey towards an unknown destination, “a land that I will show you,” as God tells him.  Throughout the Torah, our ancestors journey — they go, holech — many places.  In Genesis, we see deep family brokenness and displacement.  In Exodus, there is freedom from slavery in Egypt. In Numbers – BaMidbar – the Jewish people wander the desert, and in Deuteronomy, they enter the Holy Land.  Each of these books, and the people within them, follows a journey.

Why?  Why are there so many journeys in our tradition?  Why does Abram have to leave and face trial upon trial before he can grow and develop into Abraham, the father of a nation?   The first sentence of the parsha gives us some indication of why this journey is necessary.  

Excuse me for a minute, and follow me as we dive into some grammar. “Lech Lecha” is so often translated as “Go forth,” or “Get unto thee.” The first word, Lech, is the imperative form of the verb “to go.”  It’s a command – “Go, get going.” But what about “Lecha”?  God has already told Abram to go, so why isn’t “Lech” enough?  Lecha is reflexive; it means “to yourself,” or “for yourself.”  Rashi interpreted “lech lecha” literally; “Go for yourself,”  or go for your own good. We can also read this as “Go into yourself.”  It is not just a physical journey that God commands, but a spiritual journey as well.  

At BaMidbar, students embark on a physical, emotional, and spiritual journey of self-discovery and healing.  Jewish tradition provides such powerful guidance, support, and strength.  And it speaks so strongly to individual growth and development facilitated through journeys in the wilderness.   At BaMidbar, we use the strength of the Jewish tradition as the foundation for our program, the framework that gives greater depth to each student’s physical and spiritual journey.   Through Jewish metaphor, storytelling, values, and practice, we have the opportunity to transform the already powerful wilderness therapy model, to provide a uniquely impactful Jewish pathway to recovery.  

In Pirkei Avot, we are told that our forefather Abraham was tested ten times.  In this week’s parsha, we see many of those tests.  Abraham is exiled from his home, he faces famine, war, and family brokenness.  When speaking with a friend about Abraham’s trials, she asked, “Can you call it a journey if you’re not tested?  Without a test, then it’s just a vacation, right?”

Throughout the Torah, we see our forefathers face trials.  We see them struggle, grapple to find the correct answer, and oftentimes, we see them fail.  At various points, our matriarchs and patriarchs surely do not put their best foot forward. Does that mean we do not venerate Abraham, who makes some unsettling decisions regarding his behavior and treatment of his wife in this parsha, along with some seriously questionable parenting decisions?  No. The Torah presents full characters – their good side and their bad – and shares stories of their struggles, their trials, as they grapple to find their way in the world, and their personal meaning, values, and purpose.  Biblical characters are flawed, because, guess what – they’re human. Just as we are.

Abraham’s journey is not just physical.  He went forth into the unknown, both physically, as well as spiritually.  While BaMidbar may be the United State’s first Jewish wilderness therapy program, BaMidbar is by no means the world’s first Jewish wilderness therapy program.  No, I would say that Abraham is really the first wilderness therapy participant, and throughout the ages we have lived that narrative, again and again. Our ancestors were good at finding self, purpose, and community in the wilderness.  Why, as we face our own struggles in this day and age, should we not as well?

As we head into the first Shabbat at BaMidbar, may I leave you with a blessing.  Lech Lecha, to all of you.  Go into yourself, go for yourself.  Recognize that our trials and challenges are not weaknesses; they are what help us grow, what allow us to flourish and appreciate joy, and they are what allow us to develop into our best selves.  May we all have the opportunity to face our challenges, and come out the other side with a greater sense of self and purpose.

From all of us at BaMidbar, Shabbat Shalom.

With gratitude,

Jory Hanselman,
JoryH@BaMidbarTherapy.org 720.835.2937 x 101