“You got up, and you did something. And if trying to find a way when you don’t even know you can get there isn’t a small miracle, then I don’t know what is.”
— The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
from a novel by Rachel Joyce
When Harold Fry receives a letter from a long-lost friend sharing the news that she’s terminally ill, he feels mysteriously called. Harold lives countless miles from the bed where his friend lies dying, but his simple walk to the mailbox to post a goodbye becomes a cross-country trek to say goodbye in person. Along the way, Harold reflects upon things past and things unknown — why he moves forward and whom he wants by his side. While traveling, he meets others, young and old, who are finding their footing in relationships. They are searching for themselves, hungering for joy and love, making peace with doors they cannot pry open, and discovering open doors they’ve missed while bloodying their fingers picking rusted locks. Harold’s expedition holds no guarantees that he’ll arrive in time or that he’ll make it at all. But he promised a friend he’d be there, and he promised himself he wouldn’t stop.
Our eternal covenant with God is a series of unlikely pilgrimages. Abram and Sarai set out from the place they had called home; Jacob ran away from home and acquired the name “Israel,” which became that of the “people.” Moses put on his sandals and walked the Israelites through a swirling sea temporarily tamed and transformed into dry land. At the Torah’s last verse, we’ve not yet arrived and we don’t know for sure if we’ll ever make it.
But getting up, doing something, trying to find a way during one’s lifetime, may be more than a small miracle; it may be the covenant itself.
—Jennifer E. Krause
A Jewish journey requires a higher purpose — beyond the individual — to render it covenantal. Abraham, Jacob, and Moses aligned themselves with God in response to the divine call. Harold Fry responded to the call of a dying friend; ultimately, the journey evolved into his personal quest — noble, without question, but not covenantal. What is missing for Fry is mitzvah, the commandment that gives covenant its form.
For the Jew, mitzvah is the call of God. For the Jew, visiting the sick is a commandment not a choice. For the Jew, the fact that “you got up and you did something” is a given. For the Jew, the “small miracle” is the covenant, the sacred relationship, that allows God to arrive with the visitor at the bedside.
Does it really matter if Fry made it to his friend’s side? For him, the fact that he made the effort and had a personal journey ultimately took precedence. While Moses does not reach the Promised Land, he made God’s purpose his own. Can Harold Fry make the same claim?
— Michael S. Siegel
It’s a different journey, but one nonetheless. And while no distance is traveled, giving birth is an intensely physical experience with potential for profound spiritual transformation. As a Jewish birth educator, I always discuss fear with my classes — an emotion that interferes with and slows the journey. We also discuss how to harness faith, despite uncertainty, which helps to combat fear and to move the journey forward.
Several weeks later in the class, we discuss covenant — how the parents-to-be understand the concept and what it means to bring a baby into covenant. They anticipate that their child will have a ready-made community, wherever they go. One dad, living far from his original home, reflected: “It’s no surprise I’m living where I’m living. I just look for the bagels.” Accepting that his baby might eventually settle elsewhere, he was comforted knowing that his child could always “look for the bagels” and make a home.
Maybe this aspect of the blessing of covenant — that wherever our journey leads, we’ll have a home and a community — is what gives us the faith to get up and do something, even when we don’t know if we’ll ever get there.
— Shira Z. Shazeer
In my experience, it is not simply any old journey that leads us to a greater sense of connection and covenant. It is the journey to become ourselves. The poet Naomi Shihab Nye writes, “When I think of the long history of the self on its journey to becoming the whole self, I get tired. It was the kind of trip you keep making, over and over again, the bag you pack and repack so often the shirts start folding themselves the minute you take them off.” It is a journey that includes taking risks, moving through fear, accepting loss, and, perhaps most important, responding to the very same question that God asks the first human being in the Garden of Eden: “Ayekah?” “Where are you?”
We are made in the image of a God who speaks and the world comes into being. We are called to be forces of creativity and transformation. To do this, we need to have the courage to call ourselves into being. In the process of becoming our whole self, we find ourselves more deeply bound to all that is holy.
— Ari Lev Fornariemail print