Resiliency Lessons from Abraham

The Torah portion of Lech Lecha begins with God, seemingly at random, talking to Abraham. God tells him to leave his native land, his homeland and his father's home to go somewhere else, to an unknown place that God will show him. To the reader, it appears as if God has a plan. Without warning, Abraham's world is thrown off course. This unanticipated conversation with God will impact not only him, but the Jewish people forever.

God never says during this initial charge to Abraham that his new journey will be easy. Rather, God informs Abraham that he will be turned into a great nation, and that he will be blessed and in turn, he himself will be a blessing. There is no specific timeline attached for any of these promises to reach fruition. God has a timeline in mind, but God does not share those specific details with Abraham.

From that moment on, Abraham endures separation from his family, hunger, war, surgery at an advanced age in a very sensitive area, the command to drive one son away while offering up another on an altar, amongst other tragedies. While we often refer to the ten trials or tests of Abraham, each of these events must have been difficult as they were happening, one after another. Each must have impacted his ability to move forward on his journey. How could he feel like a blessing when he engaged in the wars with the kings? How was he a blessing when he thought Sarah was going to get kidnapped and he needed to lie by saying that she was his sister?

During and immediately after each tragedy and difficulty, I hope he took a few days for reflection in order to live with the sadness and accept his new reality. And then, hopefully something clicked and he was able to say "gam zeh yaavor." Translated into English, those words mean this too shall pass.

Engraved in a ring that I wear are the words "gam zeh yaavor." I needed this ring this past week. Like millions of women who came before me, and like some of you, or your mothers, sisters, daughters and grandmothers, I was informed earlier this week that the heartbeat of the baby I had been loving and diligently growing inside of me for the past two and half months had stopped. The joy I experienced two weeks ago, after hearing the heartbeat for the first time dissipated. Immediately it was replaced with shock, heartbreak and sadness. My body is still recuperating from the surgical procedure.

Instead of entering a cocoon of self pity, my thoughts turned to Abraham and his resiliency. I did not go to the why me place because I know that these things just happen. Every one of us knows of someone that has experienced this particular unpleasantness.
While Abraham was fortunate to have been chosen by God, his journey cannot be described as a straight line. Becoming a blessing and the father of a great nation did not happen to him overnight.

Abraham experienced multiple traumas that included suffering and pain and sorrow. As we are all his children, then that means that we must accept that our lives will also include pain and suffering and sorrow. To be Jewish means to suffer and to stay Jewish is to be resilient. We are not let in on God's master plan. As my teacher Rabbi Artson writes "Just like Abraham, we, too, must concede that life puts us on trial. Much as we might wish to determine our destiny, such control is not in our hands. We cannot choose whether we will suffer or not, but we can decide what to do with our suffering."

Abraham was initially told to lech lecha, to go alone, but he took his wife and family with him. He took his loved ones with him on his journey. That taught me that when you have loved ones, there is no need to bottle up your pain inside alone. While it was easier and much more enjoyable to share the words "I am pregnant" with my parents and close friends, sharing that I am not pregnant is equally as important. Abraham modeled for us how not to journey through life alone. We should not suffer alone.

At this point, I am slowly moving to the gam zeh yaavor phase. I am slowly moving to the "this too shall pass" phase. There was a reason that the life force inside of me ended, and only God knows what that reason was. I don't think that the purpose of being pregnant for the past ten weeks was so that I could eat on Yom Kippur. Nor do I know why my pregnancy ended. Midrash Bereishit Rabbah (55:7) teaches that "God tests the faith of the righteous in that God reveals to them only at a later time the ultimate meaning of the trials to which they are subjected." I find the ancient words of this Midrash comforting. It's not for me to figure out now.

If Abraham could bounce back from everything that he encountered, then I can bounce back from what happened to me. And each of us can bounce back from the tragedies and pain that we all experience.

Midway through the Torah portion, we read in Genesis 15, "Sometime later, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying: Fear not Abram, I am a shield to you, your reward shall be exceedingly great." By this point, Abraham had experienced hardship after hardship, and we, the readers, know there is more of that to come. But God pauses and tells Abraham that he is not alone and God will be with him. I find that comforting too. We don't need to read this as God only talking to Abraham. A paradigm is being set up. We should read it as if God is speaking to all of Abraham's descendents. Wherever our paths take us, even when we find ourselves in dark corners, hospital rooms, shiva houses, or alone, we must remember that God is a shield for us and is with us.

There is a big and master plan for all of us. Depending on how you look at it, Abraham was fortunate or unfortunate, since his plan was laid out for him. As for the rest of us, all we can do is wait and see.

Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin is the spiritual leader of the Israel Center of Conservative Judaism in Queens, New York.