There are moments that cause us to pause and examine our lives, our accomplishments and our successes. One such moment is the high school reunion. While the tenth and fifteenth might be fun and exciting, when there are decades involved, these gatherings are more anxiety inducing. Though many would probably worry about those ten extra pounds they wish they could lose before the big day, there is definitely not enough time to reinvent ourselves. What have we done with those intervening years? Are we proud of whom we have become? Will they be impressed? Did we do all we said we would do in our yearbook? Whether those thoughts flit through our minds or linger, it is interesting how, in the face of our adolescent peers, we worry about having lived up to the potential they saw in high school. Imagine the lives we would live if reaching that potential were a daily preoccupation.
In parashat Lech Lecha, G-d speaks to Avraham and tells him “Lech lecha”, ‘Go for yourself’. Avraham is told to “Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you” (Bereshit 12:1). The repetition and grammatical choice of lech lecha has been the source of much discussion.
Rashi explains that G-d is telling Avraham that he must, for his own good, get away from the influences of his father’s home. In order to grow spiritually, Avraham had to remove himself from the influences of his environment. Rabbi Olitzky, in a recent dvar torah, points out that every journey involves two steps: “from and towards”, not an ultimate destination, but a direction. “The joy”, he writes, “is in the journey.” But what is that journey?
Rabbi Moshe Lieber in his Torah anthology proposes that this passuk could also be read as “Go to yourself”, implying that G-d is calling upon him, and by extension all of us, to discover his “essential self” and try to quantify it. We are being told to dig deep and identify our own potential to which we must live up. As R. Zusia of Anipoli once said: “In heaven they won’t ask me why I didn’t become the Baal Shem Tov because I am not the Baal Shem Tov. But I will answer when they ask me why I didn’t become Zusia?” We are not expected to become anyone other than ourselves, but we are expected to strive to be our best selves.
The Yesod Ha-Avodah cites the Ari who states that no two people on earth ever live the same purpose or the same task. “Each person is placed in precisely the circumstances he needs to fulfill [his] mission”. That mission? To constantly move forward in our personal journey and never remain stagnant. To go, lech, forth towards living to our full potential. At times, this can mean removing ourselves from an environment that sets up roadblocks for that growth, as Avraham did. Other times, it is we ourselves who impede our progress. As well-known Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Noach Weinberg z’l was wont to say: “You can’t? You mean you won’t! ‘I can’t’ is idol worship!!” Granted, the statement contains the hyperbole required to push young students, but the sentiment is on point. We cannot allow excuses or fear or sloth to cause us to throw in the towel and abandon course.
Each moment of our lives is an opportunity for growth, an opportunity to move that personal needle forward. We are created “in the image of G-d”, with the inherent dignity and value and unlimited potential. And as such, we are commanded to go, for ourselves, and grow.
Dr. Laura Segall
Head of School