Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha:Lech Lecha (Genesis 12-17)Embracing Your Unique Life

Perhaps the most significant existential question ever asked has been, what am I doing here; what significance does my life have? Even if you don’t want to confront this question, it will pursue you throughout life. Did you ever look up from your desk and say, “what am I doing? Does my life have any purpose? I’m going to die one day and be forgotten; does any of this really matter?” Although no thoughtful person will be spared having to confront this, one’s answer will depend on one of two schools of thought-there is G-d or there is no G-d.If G-d doesn’t exist, the thought process logically proceeds accordingly. Why I am here? If G-d doesn’t exist, that means that life must have come about through some natural impersonal, unintelligent, and ultimately purposeless process, which means my life is ultimately as purposeless as the very process which brought me into existence. Life’s just an accident and so am I. On a simplistic level I can explain my existence is a result of my parents wanting to have children, but that doesn’t give me meaning. Ultimately, we are all just accidents and so are our parents, because life, after all, is one big accident. As such, I serve no purpose and will eventually be forgotten; in the grand scheme of things my life is utterly meaningless.In this week’s Parsha, we find an approach to this existential challenge. The expression, lech lecha, “go for yourself” is used only two times in the entire Torah. The first is found when G-d instructs Abraham to leave the comfort and security of his home town and travel to an undisclosed place. The second is when he is given the directive to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. In both cases Abraham “goes,” i.e. does as G-d instructed him, but we do not immediately know which “going” shows more dedication on Abraham’s part. In order to address this, we need to introduce a basic idea in Jewish consciousness; no two people who ever lived had exactly the same mission or life’s purpose.The purpose of a soul’s decent into this world is to contribute something no one else can, and each of us is given precisely the circumstances (s)he needs to fulfill that mission. As such, a person isn’t just randomly born, (s)he has an intrinsic nature. Some are introverts, others extroverts. Some have a natural affinity for music while others are natural athletes. Some are, by nature, independent while others need constant reassurance. Some have a natural proclivity to share and be kind while others suffer from having an innate sense of narcissism, being critical or harboring resentments. These differences are meant to assist a person in completing his or her assigned task and the same holds for the tests regarding life choices we encounter regularly. Some people become so bewildered with accepting life on life’s terms that they even complain about the way G-d runs the world; if it would be up to them, things wouldn’t be this way. The response to this way of thinking, even though it might not be emotionally soothing, is what G-d told Abraham. These challenges are “for your good; for your benefit.”Life might not be going the way you would like, but the beauty of it is that your life has tremendous meaning because, although you didn’t ask for it, G-d might send you a special needs child, a schizophrenic or clinically OCD spouse. The business to whom you were loyal for decades is now bankrupt due to population and market shifts and you have to reinvent yourself at a time in life when you saw the light (of retirement) at the end of the tunnel (of work) but then suddenly realized that the light you saw were headlights of an oncoming train heading straight toward you!  The Almighty’s directive to Abraham repeats itself to every Jew. We are instructed to distance ourselves from our land, our birthplace, and our parents’ house in the sense that we must deal with life on life’s terms, not ours. For example, we don’t get to the choose the family to which we will be born, and as angry as we are about it, we need to learn not only to deal with it, but to accept that G-d has placed us there because of something beneficial for us. A refrain heard often when supporting children and adults who have special needs siblings is “I was born into the wrong family.” According to what we are saying, it’s the polar opposite; you were especially chosen to be born into that family and be forced to deal with the challenges you and they have. The command lech lecha – “go for your own good” – instructs us that if we are to achieve our individual goals, the purpose for which we were created, we must escape the (seeming) limitations in which we find ourselves in the journey of life.Abraham was told “go for yourself” (lech lecha) two times. In which case did Abraham demonstrate a greater commitment to his life’s mission? Offering his one, beloved, son was undoubtedly a tremendous challenge but leaving the safety and comfort of one’s land and family places a person in constant, protracted battle against outside forces regularly imposed on him. Sacrificing his son is far more difficult, but it presents itself only once, and disappears. However, the constant struggle against one’s own nature is constant; having to face life on life’s terms for decades shows a greater level of commitment. It’s the difference between a mother who risks her life to run into a burning building to save her baby as opposed to the mother with a special needs child who commits decades of her life to her child in order to give him or her the best quality of life she can. The constant visits to doctors, therapists, pharmacies, special need programs, dealing with government bureaucracy, and the time spent petitioning for more public awareness is demanding and draining. A onetime sacrifice versus decades of life, which would you say takes greater commitment? The common denominator of both is that they are forms of lech lecha, going for one’s own good.The struggles of Avraham’s life teach us to constantly continue to move forward, but never give up, even amidst the most challenging times. Realize that who you are and where you find yourself is not accident. The more we imbibe this idea, the happier we will be because it puts meaning into every choice and action; this thought has the ability, if you allow it, to give purpose to your life and place significance in every action you take. [Sources: Bereishis Rabbah 39:9; Yesod HaAvodah (Rav Avraham Weinberg, founder of Slonim Chassidic movement,1804-1883) referenced in Nesivos Shalom I pp. 68-70]
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 Good Shabbos
Rabbi Oppenheim
Charlotte Torah Center