In this week’s Torah Portion, Lech Lecha, Abraham receives the famous commandment to “Go.” He is told to leave home, and it is clear from the text that this departure will be a significant moment in the development of the relationship between G-d and humans. As today is Veteran’s Day, it is particularly poignant to read the story of a person who is willing to obey orders and serve something larger than himself with such devotion. If it were not for Abraham, the Jews wouldn’t be here. If it were not for our veterans, neither would this country, in which Jews can practice our religion freely.
Abraham’s departure is much like any journey, presumably similar to some that those who serve in our military are familiar with as well. It involves leaving behind many comforts, arduous and lengthy travel, encountering people, food, customs, and cultures that are unfamiliar and sometimes challenging – all of this is chronicled in the chapters following Abraham’s departure.
As I am not myself a veteran, I can only imagine many of the experiences those who serve our country have had, and can’t pretend to understand them. One thing I can relate to, however, is how it feels to wake up in a foreign land, and what you can learn from such encounters and travel. In fact, I bet many who return from other countries have a great sense of pride in the US – their are plenty of other ways to live in the world, but our systems and structures do offer outstanding models for justice, freedom, employment, and caring for those in need. Not everyone is lucky enough to be born into a country with such values.
I am deeply grateful to those members of the Gesher and Greater DC community who have sacrificed on my behalf, because I have benefited directly from their efforts, as have my children. As a young child, I was asked to interview a family member about a story from their childhood. I chose my Zaide, who I knew had entered the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II out of a sense of duty to fight for his fellow Jews. He told me a story that he had barely shared with his own children about his plane going down behind enemy lines (he was a bombardier). He didn’t share many of the details or emotions he must have felt while desperately trying to sneak back to safety alone (he was one of only two survivors after being shot down), but the story was enough for me to understand that he’d been afraid and had to master his fear to survive.
His story ended well, through a mixture of luck, strength, intelligence, and timing – it was actually somewhat miraculous that he made it out when so many didn’t. I’ve always wondered if I would have been able to do what he did, and then come back and live a relatively normal life as a salesman for a chemical company in North Carolina. Only after he died did my Bubbe share that he’d had nightmares his entire life, and that what he’d shared with me was the first and only time he really talked somewhat openly about his difficult experience.
So I am lucky, too, thanks to him and millions of others. We are grateful. I hope you will take the time to thank a Veteran today or any day – we generally take our freedoms for granted, but perhaps this is a moment in which we can make those who keep us safe feel appreciated.