Was Abraham a Runner?

This coming March, I will have the privilege of exploring Israel with a group of runners--all of whom are coming to Israel to participate in the 2020 Jerusalem Marathon. Leading this group are two of the most prolific runners in American history, Ryan and Sara Hall. Ryan is a 2-time Olympian, the American record-holder in the half marathon, and has the fastest marathon time of any American in history. His wife, Sara, is also an accomplished runner, just finished 5th in the 2019 Berlin Marathon, and will be running next month in the U.S. Olympic Trials, aiming to secure a spot at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo

I wanted to share some thoughts that fuse two passions from which this unique Israel experience with Ryan and Sara Hall was born: the Bible and running.

In the book of Genesis, G-d chooses one man—Abraham—to lead a spiritual, social, and moral revolution in the world. Abraham is charged with helping the world to realize that there is one G-d that runs the world, and that that one G-d is a G-d of love and goodness. Abraham’s task is to overturn the social fabric of a society that says might makes right, that values material worth above all else, and that believes divine beings only intermittently involve themselves in human affairs.

His task is to help the world understand that a society only becomes invulnerable when it cares for the vulnerable, that each and every person is responsible for taking care of the other, and that G-d cares about all of us as individuals, regardless of our socio-economic status. And finally, Abraham is charged with helping us to understand that the power to impact the world around us is not an Excalibur submerged in a stone that only the privileged few have the strength to un-sheath, but rather a spark hidden inside each and every person, and that any one of us, by summoning that spark, can set the world on fire.

And how exactly does G-d choose to begin his conversation with Abraham? How does he intend to launch this revolution? He tells Abraham to go on a journey. Yes, G-d commands Abraham to leave his homeland and go to a place he does not know. But more than that. The phrase he uses to command Abraham to go on a journey is, “Lech Lecha,” which means, “Go to yourself.” You will see these words translated in many different ways. Often the English will just say, “Go.” But the Hebrew is very clear. It does not say simply “Go.” G-d does not first tell Abraham to go to a foreign land. He first says, “Go to yourself.”

For Abraham to truly impact the world around him, he must first get to know himself. He must first develop his own inner strength and sense of worth.

Runners, I believe, have a unique advantage in understanding G-d’s message to Abraham.

To be sure, every time we step outside to go for a run, we are running to somewhere. Every training run has a beginning and end. Every race has a finish line. But every runner knows that it’s not about the route; rather, it’s about developing and tapping into our own inner strength. It’s about teaching our minds and bodies to push what we once thought were our limits, to go beyond what we ever imagined would be possible. It is the journey we take “to ourselves” that contains the true transformative power, and awakens within us the drive and ability to affect the world around us.

Likewise, Abraham’s first real journey was not across the length and breadth of the Land of Israel; rather, it was “to himself.”

For all the 30,000 runners expected to participate in the upcoming 2020 Jerusalem Marathon, my blessing to you is that this journey will be as inspiring and as transformative as the one Abraham made to this same land, nearly 4,000 years ago. I can’t wait to see you in Jerusalem!


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