Who are you? Do you know? Are you the fancy car you drive? Are you the wealth you amassed? Are you the title on your business card? Are you the designer clothes you wear? The answers may seem simple, but they are not. If one by one all your status symbols are taken away, or your good looks or health, G-d forbid, when do you stop being you?
When the pandemic compelled us to work remotely, obviating the need for business suits, were we the same power players in our bathrobes and sweatpants? When we could no longer enter those skyscrapers, our heels clacking against the marbled floors affirming our worth, what happened to our prestige as we did business from our homes with kids throwing Fruit Loops at each other in the background? The social upset caused by that “plague’ certainly offered each of us ample opportunity and time to think and to question, “Who am I?” “What makes me what I am.” Hidden behind masks, many truths about ourselves where revealed.
In this week’s Biblical reading, G-d tells the Patriarch Abraham Lech Lecha which translates as “Go to yourself.” The Almighty then gives him directions on how to get there: “Go FROM your country, your birthplace and your father’s home.” G-d’s roadmap to “self” seems odd. Aren’t the familiar backdrops such as country, birthplace and home the very things that make up a person’s sense of self? Many of us in our own lives return to the place we grew up in order to get in touch with who we used to be. But G-d is telling Abraham the complete opposite here.
If we want to “go to ourselves” and to know who we really are, then we need to unbury ourselves from all the fake things we’ve allowed to define us, including our friends and our habits. All the familiar pathways we walk, whether they be the repetitive thoughts we think or the familiar streets we travel, have to be abandoned. For as science teaches “neurons which fire together wire together.” We have to take out the wire cutters and give ourselves a chance to the cut the wires and be self-reflective. So much of what we do and who we are functions on autopilot from our reactions to our breakfast. In fact, science says that 95 percent of who we are by the age of 35 is a set of involuntary programs and memorized behaviors. Basically 95% of our day we are unconscious. We are asleep at the wheel. In fact, the wheel is driving us. And then G-d steps in to wake us up and says “Go to yourself.”
Make no mistake, Abraham’s journey was not one to find G-d -- he was already aware of G-d’s omnipresence. Abraham had to go find HIMSELF through the trials and tribulations of his journey on foreign terrain. He had to discover whether the pressures he encountered along the way would crush and corrupt him or fortify him and show the measure of his moral mettle.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said that the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. When the checks are coming in and the stock market is going up and all is good for us, it is easy to have faith and believe in G-d. But when our circumstances change so dramatically that it seems as though our environment has changed too, it is during that time of upheaval and stress that we, like Abraham, must “go to ourselves” to access the gifts of who we are and to substantiate our faith in G-d, the very One Who has put us upon a fortifying road. Will we walk it with grace and faith or go along kicking and screaming and blaming? For my friends, how we walk through troubled times presents the measure of a man.
So many of us are experiencing uncertainty and our life’s compass has us spinning in circles. We feel like we are going nowhere and are as stuck as a tire spinning uselessly in eight inches of icy snow. There’s just no traction. But the truth is that we are never in the same place twice, even if we are going in circles. We are rather on a spiral either going up or going down. We have only one mission in life, and that is to create light from darkness. We may go from point A to point B a thousand times, but how have we released the sparks along the way or not is the crux. In every single choice we face in life there is a hidden spark of G-dliness, of light that is waiting for us to uncover, to be rescued.
How many mitzvahs have you done between the two points? Do you walk around with a miserable disposition and bring everyone down or do you make everyone smile? (In Judaism, one’s face is public property, and we have to keep a smile on it and greet people kindly). Do you give charity between your two points? Do you actively search for mitzvot to do with acts of kindness when you set out from your door? If we find ourselves trapped in darkness, it’s usually because we have yet to release the inner light in the areas we repetitively confront. If you are trapped in yourself, it simply means you are selfish.
When G-d told Abraham, “Go,” He didn’t even tell him where he was going. Like many of us, he too had no clear path. For it is from confusion and chaos that creation originates. It is there where we too create ourselves by the choices we make. But when we walk with G-d and with faith in Him we are never really walking into the darkness but actually into a zone of infinite concealed light. In Hebrew, the language wherein there are no coincidences, the word for "test"—nisayon–also means to be “lifted up.” Despite our circumstances and often thanks to them, we can lift ourselves up to great heights. No, we are not angels. It’s not easy. But remember angels leave no footprints; man, however, was meant to make his mark. So, go to yourself!