08/14/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

What The Bible Teaches About Being Of Service

This is a follow up to last week's message about answering the call to service.

According to the Bible, the call to service began with one man, who was the first to hear and respond. This man was living comfortably with his family in the city of Charan - in modern-day Turkey - when suddenly at the age of 75 he heard the Divine voice:

Go forth, from your land, and from your birth, and from your father's house,
to a land that I will show you.

According to the Bible, this man immediately packed his belongings, gathered his wife, his nephew, and his followers, and headed for Canaan - Israel. There, he established a new faith that proclaimed that we will love our neighbor as ourselves, and that we are all responsible for each other and for building a future of possibilities and growth. Of course the world knows this man as Abraham, father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

This text is somewhat perplexing, though, and several questions quickly arise:

1. First of all, why does the text mention "your land", "your birth", and "your father's house"? Aren't these redundant? What's the difference between these places?

2. Second, why is the destination unspecified? Abraham is asked to go to a land that will be shown to him, but how can he go to a place before he knows where it is?

3. Lastly, can we really believe that Abraham, at the age of 75 (even recognizing that Bible ages can be exaggerated, he was still described as an older man), comfortably settled in Charan, with family, wealth, and status, would so readily leave?

Let's look at each question separately:
1. Abraham could not be an effective while living in Charan, a land filled with cynicism, and selfishness. This journey is not necessarily a physical relocation, but a spiritual shift. We too need to leave our negative inclinations behind so that we can build a community of morality and faith. This is leaving your land.

Next, we must also leave behind the specifics of our genetics; our birth. Whether you are short, tall, white, black, gay, or straight, your birth characteristics do not determine you potential. Like Abraham, we must leave these superficial and divisive categories behind in order to fully serve.

Lastly, leaving your father's house means leaving the limitations of the customs and values of your specific culture, and having the courage to challenge aspects that are not in keeping with higher values. This can be a very difficult and painful process, but as we see from Abraham's example, it is essential so that we can act purely, free of baggage.

2. I have discovered that since I committed to service as a Rabbi, I don't really know where I'm going. The road is unfolding in wonderful, challenging, and unexpected ways, and I am learning to trust that my path will gradually be revealed over the rest of my life. This is what the text means by "the land that I will show you". The important thing is to get on the road; to make the decision to embark on a committed path. There are no assurances, no guarantees, and no promises that the road will be smooth. Like Abraham, though, we are required to begin the journey, even though we may not be able to see the destination.

3. When the call to service is heard and taken to heart, age, comfort, and habit are no barriers. As a matter of fact, we are most effective when we have first experienced life, and when we consciously make the choice to change direction, regardless of age or social status.

Abraham's journey is the model for the call to service. As he learned, it is not always an easy journey, and is filled with unexpected challenges, and vast promise. Like Abraham, though, when we are called we must answer. Like Abraham we may not know exactly where we are going, but we can have faith that we will be shown the way. So, like Abraham, may your journey be filled with joy, growth, abundance, occasional struggle, dedication, faith, and purpose; and like Abraham, may your life be a blessing.