Lech Lecha 5782 – Be True to Yourself

By: Dr. Bill Sutker

How do we ever really know who we are? Why do we do the things we do? Why do we make the decisions we make? As children, we are raised in an environment where choices are made for us, and our specific circumstances and surroundings often determine how our lives are lived. As we grow older, we gain more independence and freedom. We are given more responsibility; we have more say in different matters. And at a certain age, we leave our homes, where we are finally on our own, and we determine how we will live. Yet there is always a question as to how we come to those decisions.

The lifelong process of figuring out who we are and who we want to be is what this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, is all about.

I was 18 when I left my parents’ home for the first time to be on my own. While there were many unknowns in my mind, I did know I was going 130 miles from home to the University of Illinois. I understood my goals.  I knew I was going to study in a liberal arts premed program with the goal of ultimately to become a physician. It was still a scary and lonely to be away from my parents’ home without their daily input and supervision. After medical school, Helen and I moved from Chicago to Dallas.  It was now the time for us to try to grow up and become more independent and self-sufficient, away from the constant watchful eyes and suggestions from our parents.

In the Torah portion, God speaks for the first time to Abraham.  The parshah begins with Lech lecha,” go for yourself, from your land, from the place where you were born and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you”.  According to the Zohar, the words lech lecha do not just mean” go for yourself,” but simultaneously mean” go to yourself.” This teaches us that in order to really know ourselves, we must temporarily distance ourselves from the influences of those around us. We need to stop worrying about what the world wants from us, and start looking within, to our soul, to know what we want from ourselves.

Abraham was told to leave everything he knows – his family, his birthplace, his home – and go” to a place he does not know”.  Abraham understood the limitations of the old and the possibilities of the new. He was 75 when he was asked to start his life over again by leaving his homeland. Certainly, this was a difficult thing to do – it’s never easy to leave one’s loved ones or the land one has grown attached to. But Abraham’s success in his new mission depended on his ability to reinvent himself, and to realize the potential he had as the pivotal individual in the history of monotheism. Rather than focus on the frightening and unknown, he was able to imagine the possibilities of a new situation. While what’s new can be frightening, it can also be invigorating.

Banking legend J. P. Morgan once said,” the first step towards getting somewhere is to decide you’re not going to stay where you are.”

Understanding the value of any endeavor is one of the beginning steps to knowing more about yourself.

Part of any mission which any one of us hopes to accomplish is to take a step back, look at oneself, and figure out what each of us needs to do to become the person we need to be to fulfill our purpose in life.

But new beginnings are hard: a new school, a new job, the start of parenthood. Before one goes out on a journey, the journey is mysterious. We don’t know what to expect. It can be frightening to leave the familiar and go forward to the unknown.

Leaving home is not always easy for you or your parents. Homesickness, loneliness, stress, and anxiety are all common feelings that may come up during your transition to independence. Even the happiest and most confident young people can struggle. Taking time to plan your move can help reduce anxiety and help you feel more positive and confident about starting this new chapter in your life.

Living without your parents will help you become your own person. Getting a healthy distance from your parents gives you space to decide what you believe in. You will have the opportunity to become the mature and fully formed adult you are meant to be.

Now, it may feel like you must face every problem by yourself. No matter how old we get, dealing with issues on our own is hard. Living without your parents comes with incredible freedom, but also comes with responsibility and a good measure of loneliness.

Lech lecha. Go for yourself, for your own sake. Not for the sake of the community, not for the sake of others. Go for you, for your well-being. Parents, perhaps, understand this notion best. When making decisions regarding their children, they don’t make decisions about what is best for the community. Rather, they make decisions about what is best for their children.

We may never be able to pinpoint the fine line between parenting our children toward independence or compliance. We strive to stimulate their curiosity and autonomy, their ability to think freely and critically at the world around them, while never relinquishing our desire to instill within them our deeply held values, behaviors, and ideology. But their lech lecha moment is not ours to prescribe or map out. Just as we had to become the conceptual architect of our adult life, so must they.

Parenthood is going toward and leaving behind. We draw close as we raise children, nurture, and dream, worry and wonder, hope and pray, until the day comes when they necessarily go off on their own, leaving us behind. It is the way of the world. It is the burden of being parents.

So, we see in Lech lecha that Abraham embarks on his own road to self-actualization.  His journey toward truth, toward a growing faith, requires him to step out of his father’s shadow, step away from the psychological, cultural, and physical boundaries of his birthplace, and blaze a new trail ahead.

And it was there – far from his natural environment and comfort zones – that Abraham accomplished his divine mission. He spread the truth of the one God to a pagan world, and, in the process, his own name and reputation were established for eternity. It was only after leaving home that Abraham became the founding father of the Jewish people. In finding himself, Abraham found what we are all looking for:  a purpose, a reason to get up in the morning that is internally motivated.

Recently, we have heard about Simone Biles and her mental health struggles at the recent Olympics. In a recent Time magazine essay, it was written: “Simone is a shining example of what success looks like when you let go of what the world thinks and gather your strength from yourself…from your soul.” May you all gather strength from your souls and be true to yourselves.