This week's parsha
Oy, I’m Getting Old!
Who hasn't spent time lamenting their lost youth? Even my five-year-old son has been heard complaining that his kindergarten years are passing too quickly for him. Every day we waste is an opportunity squandered, every year that goes by without growth is a graveyard of abandoned hopes and aspirations.
The only consolation, for me, is the recognition that it is never too late to climb off the carousel of abandon and to begin the process of self-reinvention. History's roll call of achievement is crowded with individuals who came to greatness only late in life. Read the biographies of the Rich 200 for instance; for every dot-com teenage billionaire, there are 100 others who achieved success only after a lifetime accumulating experience.
A relative of mine who is in his mid-fifties is just beginning a university course which will one day (hopefully) see him graduate as a psychologist. Not the usual career path for that profession, I agree, but I'd lay good odds that, rather than being a barrier to achievement, his age and past experiences will allow him to bring an unique perspective while caring for his future patients.
The spiritual plane is no exception. Great accomplishments can be realised no matter one's starting date. The Lubavitcher Rebbe became Rebbe just two months before his 49th birthday and proceeded to totally revolutionize the Jewish world. On a more modest basis, so many of our best and brightest scholars, teachers and exemplars worldwide only rediscovered their Jewish heritage in adulthood.
In this week's Torah reading we are introduced to the first Jew, our ancestor Abraham, with G‑d's command to him to, "Leave your land, birthplace and father's home, to the land that I will show you" (Genesis 12:1).
These words were directed to Abraham at the age of 75, after a lifetime spent discovering G‑d and propagating the religion that was to become Judaism. Interestingly, none of his previous life experiences -- his self-sacrifice, his power struggles with the entrenched hierarchies of the day, or his successes to date in spreading monotheism -- were deemed important enough to be worthy of mention in the Torah. It is almost as if the lifework of this major historical figure and the progenitor of our race began only then.
Herein lies the difference between Judaism and other philosophies. Most people think that to come close to G‑d you must first understand Him. Spend years studying the dogmas and theologies of faith, and then, once convinced of the rectitude of your chosen path, you may embark on a lifetime of devotion.
Not Judaism, not Abraham. G‑d's first directive to Abraham that is relevant to us is "Go!" "Leave!" Abraham was commanded, "Leave your past behind; set aside logic, preconceived notions, tribal affiliations, and just go wherever I direct you and do whatever I say."
Faith is fine, logic is lovely, but a Jew serves G‑d, first and foremost, by actions and deeds. Mitzvot, G‑d's commandments, are our way of approaching G‑d. G‑d chose, for whatever reason, these specific actions to complete that connection and we, by fulfilling these mitzvos, justify our existence.
Abraham, at the age of 75, was embarking on a new campaign. From now on he would follow G‑d wherever, whenever and however he was ordered.
Whatever one's age, background, or previous experiences, we, Abraham's descendants and spiritual heirs, have inherited this capacity for self-creation, as our each and every action is accomplished for no other reason than because G‑d wants it so.