There’s a hen who comes into the goat barn every day. She flies up to the top of a 5-foot fence, perches there for a moment, then drops into the goat pen. She picks through the spilled grain, then makes her way quietly into the barn. The goats go around her, and she watches out for them. When she gets to the hay rack she looks up, judging the distance, then flaps her way to the top. She steps slowly across the piled hay into the far corner, her corner, where she settles in every morning to lay her egg. Sometimes she talks to herself a little, mostly she’s so quiet no one notices she’s there.
No other chicken comes over the fence and into the goat barn. The rest of the hens lay their eggs in the nesting boxes in the chicken coop, or occasionally on the ground under a tree somewhere. But she seems to have an imperative — “This is where you shall go to lay your egg!” — and she follows it faithfully, every day, leaving the others in order to lay her egg in this dry, quiet place. (From where it often falls onto the floor with the dropped hay, but that’s another story. Usually we find them and bring them in with the other eggs.)
In this week’s parashah, Lech Lecha, Avraham and Sarah follow what seems to be a similar imperative, away from their land, their birthplace, and their families. They leave the center of Ancient Near Eastern civilization in Mesopotamia and follow God’s directive “to the land that I will show you,” where they will start their family, and ours. They remain strangers in the land as much as a hen among goats: The Hittites and Abraham move around each other, small hen avoiding large hooves, each intent on their own destiny.
It isn’t hard to imagine how strange Abraham and Sarah’s journey might have seemed to those who watched. What where they doing, following the command of an unseen God to travel hundreds of miles? Putting their faith in promises that would not be fulfilled for many lifetimes, backed by the full faith and credit of only one deity? There must have been those who thought that they were meshuggeneh. Even the Torah doesn’t explain why they were suddenly approached by God for this grand experiment in ethical monotheism. God spoke, and they went.
There are times in our lives when we hear that voice. There are moments when we are drawn to do things which appear to be so far outside of our previous lives that others wonder sometimes about the state of our minds. And so too, as we watch others do things that we can’t understand, it’s hard to fathom why they’re acting as they do. But often we are following an imperative that we don’t understand, drawing us to a country we’ve never visited before — and leading to blessings we can’t yet imagine.
Our missions may not be as grand as that of Abraham and Sarah. They may, in fact, be as humble as laying a smooth brown egg. We may not know their outcome — great nation or breakfast omelette? But Abraham and Sarah’s story reminds us to be open to winds of change. It encourages us to remember that venturing away from the flock sometimes leads to interesting new stories, and blessings we couldn’t otherwise imagine.
This drashah first appeared in the Jewish World newspaper in Albany