The Jewish Search for Meaning Started with Abraham

    March 2010            
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Lech Lecha, the Jewish Search for meaning and Purpose

By Amy Hirshberg Lederman

If I got paid for the amount of time I spend looking for my car keys or cell phone, I could quit my day job. My husband is no better. Sometimes he passes me in the hall, sleuth-like and squinting, because he can’t find his glasses or wallet. I’m wondering if this new ritual is symbolic of something deeper when I hear him call, somewhat annoyed, from the bedroom. “Where did YOU put my wallet?”

“I hid it in your pants pocket, the ones that are still in the dryer,” I call out gaily as I victoriously find my cell phone under the newspaper.

On a serious note, most of us spend a great deal of our lives searching- for love, meaning, identity and purpose. In our youth, we seek parental approval, friendship, social acceptance and new experiences. As young adults, we look for loving relationships, a quality education and career, freedom of expression, perhaps our first home. And for many years thereafter, we continue the search - for the right partner, the best opportunities for our kids, meaningful friendships, spiritual fulfillment and communities in which we feel accepted and appreciated.

As different as we are from one another, the human need to find and make meaning from our life is a common bond between us. Whether this need stems from the ego, our inner voice or Divine Guidance, the search for identity, belonging, and self-worth is what drives us to develop ourselves and reach our highest potential.

The questions which drive our search for meaning are often framed as: What is my purpose? Am I on the right path? What is my passion? But the obstacles we most often place in the way are questions that sound like this: Am I good enough/talented enough/smart enough? What if I fail? What will others think and who will I disappoint if I change?

The quintessential “search story” in Judaism is found in the Torah. It begins with one person, Abraham, who was called upon by God to journey with his wife to a foreign land. God told Abraham: “Lech Lecha! Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation; and I will bless you and make your name great and you shall be a blessing.”

Abraham was asked to give up everything he knew, to sever all ties with his family, friends, community and home, to follow God’s lead. Looking at this story with contemporary eyes, I am amazed at Abraham’s courage and “chutzpah.” Here was a man living in a world ruled by multiple gods and myriad superstitions who followed a voice that no one else could fathom, let alone hear. By our standards it seems, I don’t know….crazy? Undoubtedly many thought so at the time. Dangerous? Most certainly, as he encountered enemies, famine and war on his journey to Canaan. Inspiring? Most definitely, if we let the message of Lech Lecha become a directive for us in our lives today.

God’s instruction to Abraham to leave his past was enhanced by the promise that Abraham’s future would include children, in fact multitudes of descendants, which was no small thing considering that his wife Sarah, at the age of 65, had not yet conceived. He was also told he would become great, a standard by which others would measure and bless themselves. Simply put, Abraham was given a Divine purpose which helped him understand the significance of the journey he was about to undertake.

Abraham was able to follow his heart because of two important reasons: he had faith and he had trust. Faith in the Divine guidance he received which enabled him alone to hear and understand. And trust, that no matter how difficult or dangerous the journey might be, it would be worth it because he would become the man he was destined to become.

The story of Lech Lecha beckons us, as human and as Jews, to take risks and travel into the unknown in pursuit of our true purpose or purposes in life. It encourages us to listen to our intuitions, to pay attention to the inner voice that more often directs our heart than our head. It teaches us that we may have to leave what we know and move away from areas of comfort, stability and ease, in order to develop our potential and become our most authentic selves. Like Abraham, we may appear crazy for leaving a job that seems perfect or a lifestyle that others covet. But like Abraham, if we hear the call, we must remember to put our faith in that inner voice that guides us along the way, whatever or however we define it, and trust in our strength, ability, creativity and talents that if we make the journey, we too, may find our own “promised land.”

Amy Hirshberg Lederman is an award-winning author, columnist, Jewish educator and attorney in Tucson. Visit her website at


from the March 2010 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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