In Judaism we read the Torah from cover to cover each year. The entrire set of scrolls is divided in a a number of segments, then every Jew and every synagogue studies that piece of the Torah at that time each year. The cycle begins right after the High Holidays when we go back to Genesis 1, and read of the Creation all over again. This being the third week of the year, all Jews read the portion called Lech Lecha.
In this parsha God tells Abraham., “Come with me to a place where I will show you……” Abraham travels then to this land, as told, where he encounters a drought, and must work to make this land, which shown to him by God, his own. This story, at this time in my life, resonates.
I was living in the Washington DC area. My health was terrible. I was taking 15 different prescription medications. My chronic absences meant I could not continue to teach as I had been for the past 40 years. My sons lived there. I had to tell them good bye .
I read this portion, and it took on new meaning for me. There is a place for me, a place where I can thrive, where I can throw off the many medications, the constant doctor appointments, and find a new life. And it worked. Here I am nine years later, living a totally new life, happy and fulfilled.
For the first six months I lived here I spoke to nobody, I sat in my house with my unhappy dog and watched quiz shows. But I found a way out of that, discovered first life-long learning classes, then ceramics. My lech lecha story! How I came to the Verde Valley and found my own continuing journey. And I wonder, how many people living here have their ownm lech lecha story>
But, going back to Abraham. His story, goes back to the time when he and his family lived in Ur as sellers of stone idols. They were monotheists, and in grave danger. I came across this story, and asked myself, “What could motivate this family to move to a place thousands of miles away to escape?” I met Amitlaai, Abraham’s mother, and then wrote down her story This is it:
Amatlai: Mother to Abraham,
I was born in Ur, a hub of government and trade in ancient Chaldea. By the time I was twelve I questioned our religion. How could multiple gods dwell in stone idols and within the natural forces these statues embodied? Struck by the single unity of mountains, rivers, skies, I came to a belief in monotheism. This complicated my life as wife to one of King Nimrod’s top aids . The fact my husband, Terach, worked an as idol seller, added to my difficulties.
I’d raised our two older sons with few problems. Late in life I became pregnant with Abram. I knew this son was special, even before his birth. His movements within my womb seemed to have purpose to them. Soon after he was born, unbeknownst to us, Nimrod’s stargazers discerned Avram to be a future enemy of the king’s idolatry. Nimrod heard this and ordered us to bring our infant son to him. I sensed something to be amiss. Terach grabbed a slave’s son to present as we dashed to our meeting with the king. We stood, horrified, as King Nimrod killed the infant slave with his own hands.
As Abram grew I shared secrets of the universe I’d come to understand. With weak eyes I could barely see the sun rise , but felt its warmth. I did not see the glitter of the stars, but heard the twitter of crickets sparkling in the night’s coolness. I observed how everything in this world fit together so carefully. I knew, without a doubt, this could not have been done by a multitude of stone gods. Only a single deity could take disparate beauties, the songs of birds, the seeming wrath of winds and the coolness of a deep pool of water, combine these, and throw in the soft souls of people and the sharp shards of stone. If only Nimrod and his soothsayers could understand this! As I let the sun’s rays soak into my skin each morning, I heard a still inner voice affirm, “Yes Amatlai , I am the One God.”
At the start of each day I took Avram outside to share this special time. I felt him absorb my thoughts and words .. I heard his toddler feet patter as he ran from stone to flower, enjoying the feeling of early morning’s sun on his skin. His first word was 'One'.
As an adult living in a center of idol worshippers, I knew enough to keep silent about my beliefs. As Avram grew, I understood God, in control, would protect Avram. Since I shared I his wonder and excitement, I couldn’t stifle it. He explored his surroundings and talked of his beliefs. “One, One, Holy One,” he chortled.
Too soon, word of young Avram’s enthusiastic monotheism reached King Nimrod. Terach and our son were once again summoned to court. I knew Nimrod to be as capricious as the wind, and I held my breath. He rebuked my husband, for bringing him the wrong baby at Avram’s birth. Attempting to disguise our deceit, Terach blamed this mix-up on a servant who gave him the wrong baby. “I was concerned about our appearance in your court and I did not even stop to check the baby.” Fortunately, the king was momentarily appeased with this explanation.
I took this reprieve as a serious warning to hide Avram. We found a nearby cave, where we lived for the next ten years. It was Avram who best understood that shadows within my limited vision could be ditches in his. I tripped over these shadows and Avram led me in a new direction.
Haran, my oldest son, 32 years older than Avram, often came to take his brother on walks, accompanied by his own son, Lot. Knowing Haran to be indiscreet, I held my breath during these outings. Would he be able to quiet Abram’s affirmations? One fateful day my family strolled along the banks of the Euphrates River, deep in conversation. “There is one God, an unseen spirit,” Avram asserted, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically. “The spirit of our one God is greater and more powerful than King Nimrod, or any of his court.”
One of Nimrod’s counselors heard this blasphemous talk, an anathema to his idol-worshipping ears .. He dragged the three of them to King Nimrod. “Take them to the brick ovens, incinerate these blasphemers!” he charged.
Lot, sobbing, later filled me in on what happened. He said the interrogation began with Nimrod’s question: “Do you believe there is a being greater than I?”
“Oh there is no being greater than you,” young Avram responded.
“Is there anything greater than I?”
“Oh yes, King Nimrod. There is the one God over all beings, over the stars, the moon and even the sun,”
“Would this god rescue you from that great fire?”
According to Lot, his father Haran answered, “I hope so.”
“But you do not know for sure?” responded Nimrod.
“I have that faith,” piped up Avram.
Lot described how Nimrod’s aides shoved my young son into the oven. After a few minutes the aides recovered his body. All gasped in amazement. Not even a red spot on could be found on Avram’s body.
Lot said the aides turned to his father: “And you, Haran? Would your god do that for you as well?”
“I hope so,” Haran replied a second time
Lot watched as his father dove into the oven before anyone could push him and was burned up instantly.
“I don’t think my father had enough faith,” Lot realized aloud, trying to hold back his tears.
After this, Nimrod understood Avram was invulnerable and left him alone.
Terach expected Avram to apprentice in his idol shop. At first Avram tried to keep his beliefs in check, not wanting to bring any more hardship on our family. He neatly arranged the idols each morning and watched with disgust as townspeople came in to worship some idols and buy others.
One morning while I was sweeping the front stoop, I heard Avram speak as he dusted these stone idols. He rubbed his cloth over their smooth surface. I heard him speak aloud, “These idols, said to be filled with holy spirits all feel cold to me. The One’s Creation can feel warm like a beam of sun or as cold as a stream of water in winter.”
Suddenly, Avram smashed all the idols together. I heard the racket and ran into the showroom. I asked Avram was going on. Terach stood behind me.
“These idols started a fight and I tried to stop them.”
Terah replied, “But that’s crazy, Avram. You know these idols can’t move, can’t speak!”
And Terach was struck by his own words. He fell back into my arms.
“Your god, Amatlai , your god doesn’t stay within an inanimate object. Your god is everywhere!”
"With all the beauty surrounding me here above the Verde Valley, how could I not create more beauty?"