Journey Forth to Inclusion and You Shall Be a Blessing – Parashat Lech Lecha

By Rabbi Paul Kipnes
In Dvar Torah

Leave the familiar and venture forth into the unknown; MatanJust one month ago, Jewish families around the world stood together on Yom Kippur, pledging to transform ourselves and our world. After taking an honest measure of who we are and who we could be, we asked the Holy One to guide us on a journey toward healing and wholeness. Risking everything, we ventured forth toward an ideal, a promise, and a hope that the future could be – would be – brighter.

This week, we read Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1-17:27), a Torah portion that recounts a similar journey of our ancestors Abraham and Sarah. In this parasha, God said,

Lech l’cha [go forth] from your country, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house, to a place that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you… and [you shall] be a blessing (Genesis 12:1-2).

With two words – lech l’cha – God sends forth our ancestors on a journey of transformation. They had to leave the familiar and venture forth into the unknown.

Rashi, the 11th century French Biblical scholar, explained the Holy One’s purpose for this journey – for your benefit and for your own good. Rashi understood that any transformation – of our attitudes, our livelihood, our relationships, or our physical location – is risky, but that ultimately, in the case of Abraham and Sarah, the risk would bring them blessing. The benefits, God promises, would far outweigh the anxiety they must have felt.

In our new book, Jewish Spiritual Parenting (Jewish Lights Publishing), my wife/co-author Michelle November and I recount highlights of a journey of one synagogue, as it became an inclusive community. This transformation brought immense joy and meaning to its congregants new and veteran. Hoping to guide other communities toward expansive inclusion, but recognizing that sometimes institutions cannot imagine how to be fully inclusive of students with special needs, we encourage parents to emulate God’s call to Abraham and Sarah, by calling on their institutions to begin the journey themselves. Gathering insights from our own experiences and those of other like-minded communities, we offer suggestions on how to find success on this journey into the unknown.

Journey Forth to Inclusion and You Shall Be a Blessing; MatanThese journeys, especially those that lead us beyond the familiar or out of our comfort zones, can lead to inspiring metamorphosis. When Abraham and Sarah picked up and ventured into the unknown, they became a long lasting great nation. All they had to do was to take a chance and envision a different – a better – way of living.

We pray that our synagogues, camps, youth movements, day schools, JCC’s and other Jewish organizations will similarly heed the Divine call. Then we all will be a blessing as we bless each other and are ourselves blessed.

Paul Kipnes, MatanRabbi Paul Kipnes the spiritual leader of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA. He serves as rabbinic dean at URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, CA, and as vice president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Rabbi Kipnes and his wife Michelle November co-wrote Jewish Spiritual Parenting: Wisdom, Activities, Rituals and Prayers for Raising Children with Spiritual Balance and Emotional Wholeness (Jewish Lights). Under his leadership, Congregation Or Ami has won national awards for social justice programming, for innovative worship programming, for outreach to interfaith families, and for engaging family education, and for best overall use of technology in a synagogue. Or Ami also wins the hearts of its families for its Henaynu caring community, which reaches out during times of need. His writings can be viewed on his blog, www.paulkipnes.com and he tweets @RabbiKip.