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My Journey - לך לך

‎The LORD said to Abram, “לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ - Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”

Go forth, said God. Trust me, God said. Follow my instruction, learn from your adventures. I will show you a land and a life that is great.

Just like Abraham, each of us is on a journey. We have all taken different paths and learned different lessons to reach this moment in our lives. We all went forth and we all trusted God to guide us along the way.

My journey began in Africa. I was just 21 years old, searching for a way to travel abroad. I was willing to go almost anywhere. I ended up on a two week trip to Ghana to study micro financing with 15 other business students. We spent one day in a primary school, and I fell in love.

The kids in the Precious Kids Academy are… well precious. They were eager to get to know us; polite and respectful, waiting patiently to soak up whatever knowledge they could get their hands on.

During our visit to the Precious Kids Academy, we presented the school with 9 used laptop computers. To us, these computers were basically trash. Outdated, slow, bumped, and bruised. To this school, the computers were a portal into a whole new dimension of learning. This donation turned into a partnership, that then turned into an organization. That trip to Ghana altered my journey in ways that I could not have imagined.

The first library we donated was in the Precious Kids Academy. We used our skills gained from studying business, and collected ten thousand books and the finances to build a library in just three months. People around us told us it was impossible, but we persisted. Our passion for education and for service were instilled in us by our different faith traditions, and those tools carried us through to success.

Abraham took his family, belongings, and animals to a new land and had many difficulties along the way. God’s promise had to be earned not just given. As a people we do not pray for rewards, rather we pray for God to show us the way to practice and fulfill mitzvot.

Isn't this what we have learned in Pirkei Avot: Antigonus of Socho taught: “Be not like servants who work for their master only on condition that they receive payment, but be like servants who work for their master without looking for any reward; and be filled with reverence for God.” And Simeon Ben Azai commented that the “reward of doing one mitzvah is the opportunity of doing another.” (Avot 1:3 and 4:2)

The volunteer work I did in Ghana is a major point of pride for my professional and spiritual journey, but what altered my soul was witnessing poverty. In Sub-Saharan Africa, average income is among the lowest in the world, healthcare is limited and costly, and access to clean water is not a guarantee. Before I went to Ghana, I couldn’t possibly know what it felt like to live in a village of mud huts, or a neighborhood filled with shacks built of whatever scrap material was accessible. I still have not lived that life, but seeing it threw my whole system into shock.

I was angry. Angry with God for allowing parts of the world to look like this. Angry with myself for living a life of ease. And angry with the corporate world for for not doing more with their billions of dollars of profit.

Near the end of that first trip to Ghana, I listened to a song on my friends iPod. The title of the song is Africa. It is written and sung by the Christian band the Paul Colman Trio. It described everything I was feeling.

Africa

I came to change you but instead you changed me And I confess I came to frame you in a photograph But you showed me why And you turned this heart around And I see your smile how it can be So much brighter than me And your silent eyes they scream Of hunger and meaning and eternal dreaming

We smiled at you from behind the glass And without reserve and whiter than snow You smiled back at us And you showed me who And you turned this mind around And I see your hands reach out to God So much higher than ours And your silent eyes they scream Of hunger and meaning and eternal dreaming Africa

When I returned home from that first trip I was devastated all over again. I walked into my comfortable two bed, two bath condo, with my sectional couch, full kitchen, and balcony. I kissed my dog and filled his bowl with expensive, grain free, all natural dog food. I stepped into my walk in closet to change out of my travel clothes and burst into tears at the sight of how many choices I had. I was paralyzed by my wealth for weeks. I reflected on my new reality, and came to the conclusion that I did not need to feel guilty for inheriting a good life, but I could choose to live my life serving others.

Like Abraham, we all make decisions based on our own experiences and pray for positive outcomes. I truly believe that I was led to that place to meet those people. I devoted the remainder of my college studies to a path that would support a career in the not-for-profit sector.

During my last year of college, my faith that had built up so strong inside me was tested. My father was terminally ill. So while I was attempting to “go forth” and begin my life as an adult, I was spending most of my free time at home learning how to be a caregiver for my father. I carried him, I cleaned up after him, I fed him; and each moment brought us closer together.

This reality could make you feel bitter and send you in flight, away from God. But for me, remembering the hardships I had witnessed in Ghana and seeing how faith guided people through each day, I chose to trust my Judaism to lead me to my next journey. Some days are still a struggle, but I know that every opportunity I've had, has made me a stronger person.

Just like Abraham, each of us is on a journey. Just like Abraham, each of us is tested, often on a daily basis. We have all learned from failures and successes in our lives. Though our faith in God might not always stand firm, we know change is the only constant in the world. Abraham chose to place his faith in God and in himself; in the end he was rewarded. We too can place our faith in god and in ourselves, and decide to practice faith through action...through mitzvot—

לתקן עולם במלכות שדי—l’taken olam b’malchut shadai—to repair the world in the kingdom of God.

**This is my 1st year rabbinical student sermon that I gave in October 2017.

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