Covid kept many sequestered at home for months. Others packed up their cars and hit the road. Some were escaping challenges while some were searching for new opportunities. As my adult children moved around the country over the past two years, I remained at home feeling unsettled. Since Torah has some similar travel stories, I thought I might find some guidance in our texts.
Beginning with Abraham, it seems our ancestors moved frequently. First inspired by God, Abraham took his wife Sarah and nephew Lot to a promised land. Their journey brought them to Canaan, Egypt, the Negev and back to Canaan. Only in death are Abraham and Sarah settled and that is in a cave in Hittite territory.
Our ancestor Jacob high-tailed it out of Canaan to evade the wrath of his brother Esau. He journeyed back to the ancestral homeland that Abraham left. His sojourn there was two decades-long. Jacob returned to Canaan with two wives, twelve children (Benjamin not yet born), and lots of goats. The family’s mailing address kept changing as they went from Succoth to Bethel, to Migdal-eder, and eventually to Egypt.
Reviewing these texts, I realized that God communicated most pointedly when our ancestors were in transit. For example, God spoke to Jacob on Jacob’s first night away from home. God promised that Jacob’s descendants would own the land of Canaan, even as Jacob fled that land. God promised that his descendants would be as many as the dust of the earth, even as Jacob slept on the ground with a rock for a pillow. Also, God promised to protect and accompany Jacob, even as Jacob ventured across unknown lands all alone.
I sometimes crave the personal experience of God afforded Abraham and Sarah and Jacob. God seems hidden to me while I am sequestered at home. Yet, I recall that many say that their experience of the Divine has been outdoors, on a hike, or while moving in nature. Could it be that God is nearest when we are on the move?
I was discomforted when my children traveled across the country during pandemic times. Each was leaving challenging situations and searching for something more Eden-like. (Apparently, California has some of those idyllic qualities). I coped with my anxiety, but Torah gave me additional comfort.
My children may not have an experience of God or pursue encounters with God, but in their travels, they might be nearer to God. At least that is my hope. I pray that their experience of God is the protection promise offered to Jacob. And may the angels that kept Jacob from harm, bless my children, and all those who are on life’s journey whether near or far. Or at least may they know the blessing of parents that cherish them.
Rabbi Evan Krame