Life is a journey
Sometimes we forget that life is a journey – we make mistakes and we experience ups and downs. It is in the nature of humans look in the rear-view mirror of our lives and say, “If only I had…” married earlier, had children earlier, prioritized family over career, focused on my health, etc. – the menu of potential regrets is endless.
We find in Jewish thought that the difference between an angel and a human is described as the difference between being static or being dynamic. Angels are static; they are created with a singular purpose and thus do not have the ability to sin – but that also means that they cannot grow or achieve. Humans, on the other hand, can absolutely falter and fail, but we also have the potential to transcend our selfish wants and “needs” and transform into higher beings. This is part of the reason that the Torah was given to the world of man and not to the angelic realm.
Sometimes life is about perspective and not giving up. Thomas Edison tried a few thousand different materials in search of a filament for his light bulb. When none worked satisfactorily, his assistant despaired, “All our work is in vain. We have learned nothing; I am getting to the point that I am not sure if we can use electricity properly.” Edison replied very confidently, “Oh, we have come a long way and we have learned a lot. We now know that there are thousands of elements which we cannot use to make a good light bulb.”
In this week's Torah reading we find an extraordinary lesson about understanding who we are and what our perspective on our past should be. The Torah portion begins with the Almighty telling Abraham:
“Go away from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation I will bless you and make you famous. You shall become a blessing” (Genesis 12:1-2).
The Biblical text gives us no indication of why God chose Abraham (as opposed to its explanation of God’s choice of Noah, for example), however, the sages of the midrash give us a hint.
At the age of three Avraham began his quest to find the real truth. In reality, it took many years and many missteps to arrive at the truth. Still, once he embarked on searching for a meaningful relationship with the Almighty – whether or not the actual path was correct – it became part the journey to find the One True God – and the entirety of that effort was precious to the Almighty. Abraham was forty when he finally crystallized the proper philosophical theology and began to preach it to the world.
Often, individuals who make a U-turn and change their lives for the better try to suppress the memories of their prior life and their “mistakes” or unenlightened behavioUr and pretend as if those things never happened. We see from here that this is not the right approach. Rather, our obligation is to utilize those experiences to help others. This is how one can elevate the entire journey of their earlier life.
You can’t alter your personal history. You can, however, change your perception of it. If you take all your experiences and you grow from them, then every mistake becomes part of your growth process and an indispensable step in the accession to your new self. Thus, we must redefine the narrative of our memories, understanding how it impacts both our present and future.
Lastly, every person’s present and future eventually turns into their past. Thus, who we are today, what we do today, and our actions in the future also has a cumulative effect that creates a net change to our past. Therefore, the more we change, the better our “new” past defines us.