Friday, October 15, 2021/9 Heshvan, 5782
Parashat Lech L’cha Genesis 12:1−17:27
Sometimes no words are sufficient for the grandeur in our souls.
Just a few days ago, William Shatner set off into space. Upon entering weightlessness, the only words he could utter were, “No description can equal this… Oh wow. Oh, my goodness… I can’t believe this.” Shatner was in awe and disbelief of the miracle he was experiencing.
I imagine Abram experienced a similar sense of amazement in this week’s Torah portion when God calls out to seventy-five-year-old Abram (He has not yet become Abraham). “Lech Lecha,” God says. “Go forth from the only home you have ever known and set out on a new adventure.” God promises to make of Abram a great nation, to bless and protect him. Abram gathers his family and prepares for a new chapter in his story.
In The Mussar Torah Commentary, Rabbi Richard Kellner points out that Abram does not say a single word in response to God’s request. “We would expect Abram to respond by reaching out to his beloved Sarai or his nephew Lot to share with them the grandeur he just experienced and the awe he felt,” Kellner explains. But Abram doesn’t speak. He chooses to remain silent, holding on a bit longer to the sanctity of the moment. Kellner continues, “Abram’s silence, an expression of awe, permits him to recognize God’s presence in his life, whereas the spoken word would have minimized that awe-inspiring moment of hearing God’s voice.”
I’m reminded of the famous composer John Cage. He wrote hundreds of stunning musical pieces, but he insists that his most important piece was his silent one. Entitled 4’33,” this piece is 4 minutes and 33 seconds of absolute silence. Pianist David Tudor called it “one of the most intense listening experiences you can have.” Sometimes there is nothing more profound than silence.
By staying in a place of silence, Abram allowed himself the opportunity to take in the grandeur of the moment, to be amazed and inspired. Once he did that, he knew he had no choice to act. His life had been irrevocably changed, and he was better for it.
Psalms 111:10 teaches that awe is the beginning of wisdom. This Shabbat, we may not be headed into space or hear the words of God, but we do have the ability to sit in silence and take in the sanctity around us. We can take in the beauty of the world around us, reflect on the holiness in another’s soul or the profound gifts we have been given. We can embrace our inner sense of awe. As Rabbi Joshua Heschel taught, “awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine.”
Rabbi Cassi Kail