Why is it so difficult to recognize your life’s mission?
The obvious answer is that we are distracted. Our struggle for survival consumes us with the means, which can easily obscure the ends. The pursuit of money, status, power and pleasure takes hold of us, and in its powerful clutches we can completely forget our mission. Indeed, we can even convince ourselves that we don’t need – or don’t have – a mission. The here and now is all that matters. Survival of the fittest. Dog eats dog. And may the best man win. (There’s a mouthful of clichés).
Yet, this answer is not adequate. Even people who are committed to discover their mission find it difficult to do so. Determination is vital; but something still seems to stand in the way between you and your mission.
This week’s Torah portion provides us with the solution. But first, a short introduction.
The sequence of the Torah portions contains the story of our lives. As the new year begins, following the holiday season, we begin the journey of life anew, refreshed and empowered:
Chapter one, Bereishit – Genesis – is exactly as its name implies: The beginning. Life commences with the statement that G-d created all of existence. In other words, the universe is not here by accident; it has purpose and design.
The first step is recognizing your mission.
Human then loses sight of his/her mission. Existential detachment is born with the eating of the Tree of Knowledge. The world then goes into a free fall, generation after generation wandering farther away from their calling, until it spirals into a society dominated by corruption and greed.
Chapter two, Noah, is the story of the flood that comes to cleanse the corrupt world (like the waters of a mikveh, ritual bath), and allow for global renewal.
Chapter three, Lech Lecho (this week’s portion), is the fascinating story of Abraham, who begins to reverse the fall that took place in the Garden of Eden. He first searched, then discovered his mission and the mission of all people on Earth. He then committed his life and the life of his family to forever embrace this mission, and never let go.
After that life and history were never the same.
What did Abraham discover? What tools did he acquire? How was he able to discover, and even more importantly, maintain, his mission in life?
Studying Abraham’s life can uncover for us invaluable resources to help us face the struggles of our own lives today.
The story of Abraham begins this week with G-d’s call – the first “mitzvah” – “Lech Lecho.” Go to you, away from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.
Very strange command. When you offer someone directions, the most important thing is to clearly describe the destination. You must specify the destination so the traveler knows where to go. “Go to this and this country, this and this city, this and this street, this and this address.” The point of departure is not vital, because the traveler knows where he is leaving from; he needs to be informed where to go. Yet, when G-d instructs Abraham, He focuses entirely on the place to leave, and with three (seemingly redundant) descriptions: “from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s [parent’s] house.” When it comes to the destination, G-d vaguely says go “to the land that I will show you”!
Is Abraham supposed to go east, west, north or south, and then to which country and which city?!
Therein lies a vital secret in discovering your mission in the world.
Subjectivity is the most blinding influence in our lives. Specifically, three subjective forces in each of our lives cloud our vision and, resultingly, our ability to seek out, recognize and embrace our respective missions.
“Your land” – social conformity and peer pressure, which affect our standards and mind-sets.
“Your birthplace” – your inherent bias and self-love, that distorts your views and judgments.
“Your father’s house” – parental attitudes that shape and influence your life.
Subjectivity per se is not a negative thing. It is the driving force that compels us to protect ourselves and our loved ones, to excel and to demonstrate our personal strengths. Subjectivity can adversely affect us when we don’t acknowledge its existence, and when we allow it to blind our judgment.
Like the doctor that says, “I’ll tell you when you need a second opinion”…
“Bias [bribery] blind the eyes of the wise and distorts the tongue of the righteous,” tells us the Bible. Why are they called “wise” and “righteous” if a simple bribe can blind their eyes and distort their tongues? Because that is precisely the power of bias: It blinds everyone, even the eyes of the wise. This distortion can become so grotesque, that the wisdom can end up being used to justify a subjective, unjust cause. Unfortunately, examples of this abound, so there is no need to elaborate further.
All growth comes from an awareness of one’s own subjectivity and the willingness, the courage, to climb higher and see a broader horizon.
Being stubbornly locked in one’s own subjective views, just to “feel good” or “feel right” or out of pride, is basically off any possible movement.
Now, the Torah tells us that there are three primary sources of our own subjectivity:
1/ “Your birthplace” – “A person is naturally close to himself,” the Talmud states, meaning, that by nature we are born with certain self-love that blinds us to some extent to our own shortcomings. We see flaws in others more acutely than we see our own, even if they are worse. It’s much easier to give someone else advice than to follow it yourself.
This inherent subjectivity can cause us to be self-righteous, protective and unwilling to acknowledge mistakes.
Natural subjectivity also includes, of course, the particular shape of our inherent personalities.
2/ “Your father’s house” – the subjective attitudes we assume from our parents, for good or for bad, which shape us in our early impressionable years. Even if these attitudes may not be genetic they become etched in our psyches.
3/ “Your land” – social mores constantly pressure us to conform. Human nature is such that we want to be accepted and respected by our peers. But what if the standards of our peers are petty and superficial? Then, that becomes a force that shapes and informs us, for good or for bad. Every society has its subjective standards that are always affecting us. Add into the equation the media and all the streaming images that inundate us in contemporary society, and you have a whole new entity shaping our subjective self-image
Add together all these three subjective forces that shape us, and you can just imagine the distortions that we may have in our own self-perception. Can you know who you really are in face of all these shaping influences?! Perhaps the person you think you are is a product of your parents and society? Throw into this combination your own inherent subjectivity and you have a real confused mess. How can you distinguish between who you really are and who you think you are based on all these subjective forces?
After all, your parents were the ones that By the time you can start thinking on your own (if that is actually happening), you have already been shaped and hardened and most of the big decisions (like what type of education you should have, what if any religion, what exposure) has already been made for you, again for good or for bad.
That’s why G-d’s first commandment to Abraham and to each of us is: “Lech Lecho” – Go to you, away from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. “Go to you” and discover the “real” you is only possible when you leave the subjective influences of your inherent bias, your parents and society. Then you will go “to the land that I will show you” your true self.
Think about the first time you left the comfort of your home and went to school or summer camp. Initially disconcerting, but that is where you had your first real accomplishments. As long as you are in the shadow of the powerful influences in your life you can never know your true self, and inevitable you can never truly excel.
To find your mission in life you do not need to know the destination as much as you need to know how to free yourself from the shackles of your present state. Why? Because your mission is ingrained inside the very fiber of your being. You need not travel elsewhere to find yourself and your calling. It’s right there inside of you. But in order for it to emerge you need to strip away the subjective layers that don’t allow your true self and your true mission to emerge. Like flowers embedded in the earth, you need to cut away the weeds and allow the flowers to emerge.
By no means does this imply that all the subjective influences in our lives are like “weeds.” Many of these influences may be powerful forces for good that have helped and continue to help shape our characters. Additionally, as mentioned earlier, subjectivity is also very much part of our unique individuality and self-preservation. However these subjective forces can become like “weeds” when left unchecked, and more importantly, when they control our lives and our decisions. They become impediments when they blind us from seeing “outside of our box” and seduce us to remain in our “comfort zones.”
After getting married, the great Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, was living in poverty with his new wife. His wealthy in-laws wrote to him that if the new couple comes to live in their home, they will provide for all their needs and he can freely and comfortably pursue his studies and spiritual travels. The Rebbe replied: “The most comfortable place for a child is in its mother’s womb, where all is provided for and the child is protected from the elements. Why then does the child leave the womb upon birth? Because there’s one problem: the place [inside the womb] has become too small, and the child has become too large”…
Life has many stages. In the early stages of life we depend exclusively on the protection and nurturing of family and home. Even later in life it is healthy and necessary to maintain the love and the connection. Family, friends and society are a powerful source of support. But then comes the stage of Lecho Lecho, when you need to go out of the “womb,” cut the “umbilical cord” and discover and actualize your true self and your mission – and fly with it.
We go through many Lech Lecho’s in our lives.
Lech Lecho teaches us that the mission stated in the beginning of Genesis and renewed in Noah is accessible when we challenge our status quos and free ourselves from the subjective narrowness of our initial perspectives.
How do you free yourself? Invite in ideas, books and people that challenge you and your perceptions. The great gift and blessing of Torah is that it provides us with a Divine blueprint how to live our lives, which offers us a backdrop as a contrast to our subjective and natural tendencies. Consult a trusted mentor or friend, who can offer a more objective view on your choices.
Free yourself from the exclusive influences of home and society by traveling to other environments and meeting new people. Allow yourself to use your unique strengths to help improve these new environments and people.
By all means utilize the strengths you gained through your home and society; see them as springboard for your growth. But then spring.
What is heartening about this is that you have the answers you need inside of you. Your unique mission statement is embedded within you, waiting to be released.
Making a Lech Lecho move and moving away from the subjective forces in your life – all the things that you think are important today – is the key to discovering your mission. It will help you look at your life in a new way – at your personality, opportunities, people and places – and know how to realize the mission for which you, and only you, were sent to Earth in the first place.
No small feat.