NaNoWriMo 2: Go forth

In Jewish synagogue practice, the Five Books of Moses are divided into portions, one for each week of the year. Each week the appropriate portion is read, and at the end of every year the entire Torah* will have been chanted aloud.

This week’s portion can be transliterated Lekh L’kha which is commonly translated as “Go!” or “Go forth!” God tells Abram (as he is called before he is given the name Abraham) to go forth, to leave the city of Haran where he has been living and to “betake yourself” (the literal meaning) to a new land.

In the Etz Hayim Commentary published by the Rabbinical Assembly of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, a note to this verse (Jewish commentary is filled with lots and lots and lots of notes) mentions a midrash (commentary) that interprets “go forth!” to mean “Go forth to find your authentic self, to learn who are you meant to be.” [Mei Ha-Shi-lo-ach]

Another Jewish synagogue practice is what we at our synagogue call the drash. Roughly equivalent to a sermon, this reflection on or interpretation of the week’s Torah portion is often given by the rabbi but can be delivered by any adult Jew. It need not mention God, but it can. It can be directly or only tangentially related to the events related in that week’s portion. Often a drash will develop out of the drasher’s interest in a single incident, phrase, or even a single word.

As our synagogue is lay-led (has neither rabbi nor cantor), our drashes are given by members of the congregation (or sometimes by visitors). Today a woman (JR) transitioning out of the Army into civilian life talked about the command to Go Forth. In the army, such a command would be followed by a long checklist of preparation, possible delay, more questions, inventory, missing equipment, and more considerations that I cannot now recall.

In the Torah, however, when Abram is told to go forth, he just goes without question or hesitation. There’s no mention in the text of any preparation, inventory, or delay. He hears, and he goes.

In a way it’s like stepping off a cliff sure of your wings.

I want to briefly step back and note that I use the Torah as a vehicle for this post not because I care if people believe or do not believe. That’s immaterial to me. In this context I use it as a tool to frame questions and discussions.

I don’t know where the inspiration to write comes from. I’m not sure anyone knows. Creativity exists as an essential element of the human condition.

What I do know is that people develop a lot of anxiety about creativity, and thus about writing. Can I write? Should I write? Do I have permission, and if so, from whom? Is what I write worth reading? Will anyone care? Will I ever be any good? Can I finish? Does it matter?

One of the benefits of an exercise like NaNoWriMo is that it cuts through the questions, for the moment although not for always because the questions are always with us.

Sometimes we just have to go forth without hesitation. We have to step off the cliff and write.




* Or one third of it, if the synagogue follows the triennial cycle, but let’s not confuse things.