Thursday, May 03, 2012

To Yourself, Again

Looking down W. 44th Street

Back in December, a friend and I went to see the Dead Sea Scrolls at Discovery - Times Square.  "More than a museum" is their tag-line, and the first part of the exhibit was definitely more of an experience than your typical museum set-up.

We arrived at the time appointed on our tickets and were ushered into a small black room.  The door closed behind us; the lights dimmed.  Written on the surrounding black walls in white lettering was a quote from the Book of Genesis - in Hebrew on one wall and in English on another.  The quotes were alternatively lit by a spotlight as a recording of a woman's voice read first the Hebrew and then the English translation.  The verse was Genesis 12:1:
"The Lord had said to Abram, 'Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.'"
That word "go" in the Hebrew is "lech lecha" which I've talked about before.  "Lech" is the command - go!  And "lecha" means "to yourself."  Go to yourself.  It's a funny construction, and not used very often in the Bible.  I know of only two occasions - here, when Abraham is called to leave behind the known for the unknown.  And later in the book of Genesis, when Abraham is called to - essentially - sacrifice his earthly hope for the future and trust in God instead.

Go to yourself.  What does that mean?  I've been wondering ever since I learned the Hebrew.  Go to yourself.  And why does this phrase keep cropping up in my life?  I've been wondering that, too.

After a few minutes in the small black room, a different set of doors opened and we were herded into a space that was supposed to invoke Qumran and the Dead Sea: stones on the floor, large clay pots on pedestals, screens showing video footage of Israel, and an actor (dressed like every archaeologist I've ever seen in the movies) posed upon a big rock, ready to tell us more.

From there we moved into a third space, a long gallery filled with objects on loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority.  Beyond that lay the star of the show - small shards of the Dead Sea Scrolls, displayed under magnifying glass.

As we wandered through the exhibit, we got farther and farther from the small black room where we started.  But for a long time, over the muffled conversations of my fellow exhibit-goers, I could still hear that recorded voice reading the Genesis quote.  "Lech lecha"...."lech lecha"..."lech lecha."

And I thought, "I hear you.  I promise I hear you."

* * *

Except I then promptly forgot about it, until recently.  Until Tuesday evening, actually, when - after our regularly-scheduled Hebrew class - my teacher asked her semi-regular questions: "When are you going back to school?  And when are you going to Israel?"

This time, though, it wasn't a passing comment, it wasn't idly or teasingly spoken.  "No seriously, when are you going?"  She followed it up with kind words about what she see's in me, offered to reach out to her contacts in Israel, wanted to press me on the issue.  "Think about it."

So I'm thinking about it.  I'm thinking about how it felt to leave an inter-faith service a few weeks ago - walking slowly out into the drizzly evening, knowing (deep in my knower) that there was something there, something about engaging in that subject, in that dialogue, that runs my motor.  I'm thinking about grad school - it didn't seem "right" five years ago, but maybe something's changed?  I'm thinking about how this dialogue - Jews & Christians learning together, studying shared texts together, drawing parallels and finding commonalities while not glossing over differences - always strikes me as the most beautiful sort of poetry.  I'm thinking about how often I've thought about this, how I can't seem to escape it (and I have tried).

I'm thinking about all that, and the driving conundrum behind it: lech lecha - what it means to go to myself and how then shall I do it?

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