Why Are You Here?
This week’s Parsha introduces us to Abraham, the first Jew. G-d told him to leave his native land, birthplace, and his father’s house and go to an unknown land.
And G-d said to Abram, “Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.” (12:1)
[The founder of the Slonim Chassidic dynasty, Rabbi Avraham Weinberg (1804-1883), authored the classic Yesod HaAvodah, which is an existential guide to understanding oneself and his or her calling in life. My wife is a descendent of the author and therefore his work as well as the works of those who followed his are dear to us. The following dvar Torah is based on a concept found in the works of the various leaders in the Slonim dynasty.]
There is a basic concept in Judaism: each person was put on earth to fulfill a mission, something that (s)he must correct or improve. No one can fix that thing other than the person who has been tasked with it. Just as no two people have the same face or fingerprints, so too no two people are alike. That means that no matter who you are, your life has tremendous meaning and purpose. Although life gets complicated and can lead people to anger, substance abuse, depression or other issues impeding their emotional health, these people should realize that they too were put here for a reason and should bear in mind that some of the greatest contributions to the world were made by people with severe emotional or physical challenges. Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression and anxiety attacks and was married to Mary Todd, who was schizophrenic, but that did not prevent him from eradicating slavery and being considered by some to have been the greatest statesman in history. Einstein and Edison were dyslexic; Helen Keller proved not only to herself but also to the world that blind and/or deaf people can learn to communicate and survive in the world of seeing and hearing. The fact that she was blind and deaf did not deter her. This was one of the early messages given to Abraham.
Although the translation of the verse above is “Go forth,” the literal Hebrew translation is go to yourself (or for yourself).G-d had a plan for the world and had intended on giving it to all of humanity but the generations from Adam to Noah failed and so did the generations from Noah to Abraham. G-d had a message but the overwhelming majority of humanity was not interested in it. Abraham was different. Through his own power of reason, he came to the conclusion that idolatry did not make sense; there must be Something behind it all. He had found his mission: teach people the G-d concept. Unlike the gods of idolatry, or later the gods of Greece and Rome, the G-d of Abraham was kind; therefore, we should be kind. G-d is compassionate; therefore, we should be compassionate. G-d is forgiving; therefore, we should be forgiving. Just as He is slow to anger; therefore, we should be slow to anger. These were new concepts to the world and he and Sara were committed to teaching them, but how?
G-d provided instruction-the first thing to do was to take away all the advantages Abraham possessed. He had to leave the support and protection of his tribe and family. The message was not that in spite of all the difficulties he would endure as a result of this loss, he could still succeed but because of them he would ultimately fulfill his life’s purpose. It is only-i.e. specifically-due to life’s vicissitudes, that he or any other man or woman after him would succeed. Both the advantages and disadvantages in life are necessary requirements for us to accomplish what we need to.
Some people are angry by nature; it doesn’t matter whether it is part of their DNA or it is due to the home in which they were raised. They are difficult people and, when alone in a moment of honesty, will admit it. What they don’t realize is that their soul might have been placed into this world specifically to rectify this emotional disease. Instead of viewing the therapy and support which enables them to live a peaceful life as a necessary evil, let them view it as an opportunity. It can bring them to be humble, because they realize they could not solve the problem themselves. It can bring them to be more understanding, because they know firsthand how hard it is to feel trapped in the insanity of emotion. They can develop a sense of inner peace because they no longer allow fear or jealousy to hijack their minds.
How does the angry person’s life look now? Yes, there is inner peace, but it does not stop there. (S)He will see new plateaus in marriage and other relationships. Career opportunities will open up because people will enjoy this person’s intelligence, work ethic, and other positive attributes, whereas in the past they were dwarfed by his or her anger its consequences. So many possibilities in life will be open, and perhaps a mission (s)he never knew (s)he had will be revealed. Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century according to Time magazine, was intelligent and capable but he was also a reckless and resentful drunk who was headed for an early grave. His only goal was to become sober but in the process, he discovered himself, and ultimately possibilities he had never imagined.
Abraham had to leave his land, birthplace, and father’s house and as a result he was subjected to famine, his wife was abducted-twice, his nephew taken captive, he had to go to battle with kings, was estranged from his oldest son and other difficulties. All of this happened because G-d told him to leave his home. When things happen in our life, when we are forced to leave the protection of comfort of what we have grown accustomed to, we must not get angry or panic. When successful relationships, finances, career, fame, and other we think we can’t live without are taken away from us, allow yourself to think about the possibility that this is specifically what you need in your life to accomplish what only you can. Abraham Lincoln, Helen Keller, and Bill Wilson changed the world but had to go through what must have seemed like hell before doing so.
Ask yourself, why was I put in the world? Was it primarily to have a career and pursue hobbies? If G-d put you here, it must mean that you have something unique to contribute. You have a mission that no one else but you can do. It might be that you learn how to live without resentments or it might be that you should inspire others to do so as a result of the life you made for yourself. If you have no clue what your uniqueness is, ask a close friend or mentor. No matter how difficult life is, the challenges you face are chosen by G-d to help you achieve your purpose.
Although your age or station in life at the moment might lead you to the false notion your existence serves no purpose, if you are alive, you have a purpose. As decedents of Abraham, it behooves us to follow his lead and discover it.
(Sources: Yesod HaAvoda IV 1,2; Toras Avos; cited in Nesivos Shalom I 62-64)