When we reach the words Lech Lecha in the Torah and God firsts speaks to Abram and Sarai with that command to ‘Get thee gone’, I’m always moved in ways which year by year I can never manage to understand.
I don’t know if it’s some sense of life’s inner, personal journey, almost as if I had heard those words myself in some subliminal memory as early as before I was born, – ‘Get thee gone’ from your mother’s womb, – only to hear them again with each of life’s new challenges, as if they carried within them the mystery of both life’s past and future. They open out before me a vision of a path not unlike the bridle track I followed yesterday with the dog, with fallen leaves and footprints in the mud and corners past which I cannot see or know. What discoveries does life yet hold? What am I leaving behind me on this unremitting quest, driven by the mercilessness of time? Before I can even look back and ponder the next moment, day, week, year has already arrived and pulls me forward.
I don’t know if the power of the words is connected with the grip which my family’s journey still has over me a generation later. I find myself reaching once again for my grandfather’s memoirs and his account of arriving as a refugee in England in 1939, of the welcome the German Jewish émigrés received from Rabbi Israel Mattuck at the Liberal Synagogue in St John’s Wood, where they held their first service in the Muttersprache – German – with the familiar Lewondowski melodies, and so many who had escaped with nothing but their lives and, if they were lucky, some of those they loved, wept.
Or perhaps the words speak most of the long, tenacious and ceaselessly creative journey of the Jewish People, a ‘Get thee gone’ which has led down to Egypt and back up to the Promised Land, to Babylon – ‘How can we sing the song of the Lord on strange earth?’ – to Rome and across the whole of Europe, and finally back home; a ‘Get thee gone’ which has hugged to its heart despite afflictions of all kinds the search for God and that world of truth, justice and goodness which God has always promised us we shall finally be shown.
Or maybe it’s because it’s hard not to hear in today’s realities a very different kind of ‘Get thee gone’, in a far harsher tone from that of God’s encouraging words to Abram, – the cruel, snarling, well-armed ‘Get thee gone’ which drives so many millions from their homes and their father’s houses and sets them on the hungry, restless, heartsick road of the refugee who so rarely encounters any more than fleeting refuge and passing acts of mercy. It’s for this reason that we, who have often known that road, will welcome members of the Congolese community this Sunday, who know it all too well today.
Or perhaps it’s all of this together: the realisation that this ‘Get thee gone!’ is no less than every life’s reality, harried along from birth to death, trying to understanding, find meaning, purpose, goodness, God. ‘Go’, says God, ‘and turn it into blessing’.