Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Lech Lecha. Journeys and Odysseys. Drasha for Sheva Brachos (#7)

My wife and I just got back from Memphis, where we attended the wedding of a young man with whom our family has been very close.  We drove there from Chicago, and that gave us the autonomy of deciding when to leave, and we chose to stay a second day.  We were graciously invited by the eponymous culinary genius of Ricki's Cookie Korner to attend a Sheva Brachos she and her husband hosted that evening.  Although I hadn't been asked to speak, my wife strongly suggested that I do so.  She felt that because of our long and close relationship with the Chasan, it was important that I say something good and true about him.  We stayed at the Peabody hotel, and while the history and ambiance were memorable, the sofa in the room wasn't particularly comfortable, and the options I faced were simple: speech, or sofa.

The morning after I delivered the speech, I was passing by an antiquities and collectibles store in the hotel lobby, the Samuel Nathan Gallery.  As it happens, the owner, Ezra, is from Flatbush, and, smart businessman that he is, he blew a shofar as I walked by.  It worked as he intended, like a moose call, and I went in to see who would be blowing a shofar in Memphis on a November morning.  Ezra, who penetrated what I thought was a good disguise, perceived that I was some sort of rabbi, and asked me the question that I had addressed at the Sheva Brachos the night before.  He sincerely thanked me for my explanation, and then, of course, sold me some tzatzkes.  I thought that the coincidence implied that the message might be meaningful to someone, so I'm posting it.

Sometimes, a young man and woman go out for the first time in their lives, and they decide to get married.  What a mazal bracha, what a gift from the Ribono shel Olam that can be!  That is exactly what did not happen to his couple.  Both the Chassan and the Kallah had their share of heartbreak and distress over the years.  When they finally did meet, a few years ago, each knew that there was something special and unique here, but hope was defeated by anxiety and fear, and nothing came of it.  Everyone around them told them that they needed to get together again, and finally, good sense and good mazal triumphed and they did get back together and are now married.

This reminded me of a stylistic distinction between the words 'journey' and 'odyssey'.  (This distinction is maintained in the New York Times, but is not found in general dictionaries.)  A journey is simply a trip from point A to point B.  An odyssey is a long and difficult journey that ultimately brings the traveler back home.  The Maharal says that Ray'ah means close friend, but is most used to mean spouse.  He explains that while the standard etymology of Ray'ah does mean friend, it also alludes to the idea of the Tru'ah by Tekias Shofar, the broken sound.  A spouse is more than a close friend.  A spouse is a Ray'ah, a piece of the other person.  They are two segments of one fundamental unit, the re-created Tzelem Elokim of the original form of Adam Harishon that exists only in a marriage.  A long, long time ago, two souls were made one.   שמח תשמח ריעים האהובים, rejoice, you two rejoined parts of a unitary soul, as you existed in Gan Eden.  You have finally found what was missing from your life, and your teru'ah has become a song of rejoicing.  Your long travail of seeking was not a journey, it was an odyssey.  You have traveled and traveled, and now you have come home.

This highlights a strange thing we find in our Parsha about journeys and destinations.  Hashem told Avraham Lech lecha, go to the land I will show you.  Why didn't Hashem tell Avraham where he was going?  Why did Hashem only tell him to go to the place He would name later?  The answer is that Avraham was being taught a lesson.  He was being taught that, as Ezra from the Samuel Nathan's gallery later phrased it, a Jew must know that he must never become part of the landscape.  People fool themselves into thinking that life is about destinations, and that everything else is just a way of getting there.  Hashem taught Avraham Avinu that this is not true.  The purpose of life is growth and change and experience.  All of life is a journey, and the journey is not merely a unavoidable precursor to a meaningful goal. Hashem put you in a circumstance so you can learn and grow and incorporate the lessons you learn into your identity.  In the Navi Zechariah (3:7), Hashem tells the navi that he is being granted opportunity to grow:  ונתתי לך מהלכים בין העומדים האלה  I will give you a path among these that are standing.  Man is called a  הולך, a walker, while malachim, angels, are called עומדים, the stationary ones.  A malach is what he is and he remains as he was created.  Man walks.  לֶךְ לְךָ.  He rises, he falls, but he is never stationary.  אורח חיים למעלה למשכיל  למען סור משאול מטה (Mishlei 15:24, and see Gaon there-  – שבכל דבר שקשור בנפש האדם, אם לא עולים – אז בהכרח יורדים, וכפי שמפרש רש"י על הפסוק: "וַיִּקָּחֻהוּ וַיַּשְׁלִכוּ אֹתוֹ הַבֹּרָה וְהַבּוֹר רֵק אֵין בּוֹ מָיִם" (בראשית לז, כד) – "והבור רק אין בו מים – ממשמע שנאמר והבור רק, איני יודע שאין בו מים, מה תלמוד לומר אין בו מים? מים אין בו, אבל נחשים ועקרבים יש בו".).  Life is all about that change, and a wise man will see every segment of life as a classroom and every step of his travels as a lesson. The Chassan and the Kallah intuitively knew this, and they are different for having experienced what they experienced- stronger, wiser, and better.  They have finally come home, and their journey of discovery and growth continues.  May they use this wisdom and strength to build their Bayis Ne'eman Be'Yisrael.


  1. Very nice drasha, which I will tell over at the table, with proper citation and the rest of the story. I should say, however, that the primary reason for my comment is to convey admiration for the fact that you have the most interesting kosher adventures I think I've ever heard of (to wit: shofar-blowing antique dealers at the Peabody). I must be doing something wrong.


  2. Yes, Akiba, and it's not that I go looking for them. I was really trying to go native, but somehow....