It Takes a Live Fish to Swim Upstream

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In this week’s Parsha Hashem famously tells Avram “Lech Lecha - Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”

These words, which challenge Avraham with his first test and form the name of our parsha, are repeated by Hashem to Avraham as his 10th and final test: “Take your son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love, and Lech Lecha – go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you.”

The Midrash (Tanchuma Lech Lecha 3) actually wonders, which test was greater, the first “Lech Lecha” or the second?  How could the rabbis have seriously considered that question?  How could anything compare to the test of sacrificing one’s beloved child?

While the Midrash concludes that the second Lech Lecha, the test of the Akeida was greater, there is insight to be gleaned from the question being asked. Perhaps the Midrash considered the possibility of our Parsha’s Lech Lecha being greater because it is exceedingly difficult to break the momentum, to interrupt the trajectory that our lives are going in and to discover ourselves, our story, who we are meant to be and the lives we are meant to live.

To be a Jew, the progeny of Avraham, is to embark on the journey to identify who we are and what we can bring to the world. At the very beginning, God tells Avraham to set out on a journey of lech lecha.  Go find yourself.  Lech lecha, explains the Slonimer Rebbe – yi’udcha tikuncha.  What is your destiny, what is your mission, what can you uniquely contribute and what is the world waiting for from you that nobody else can bring or do?

So many people are living other people’s lives or allowing others to write their story instead of writing it ourselves.  Nevertheless, Chazal advise: B’makom she’ein anashim hishtadeil liheyos ish.  The simple meaning of this instruction is to step up when nobody else does.  But on a deeper level, some explain it means nobody else can be you by definition, nobody else can offer what you can or do what you can do.  Don’t let others write your story, rather lech lecha, write your own next chapter.  You don’t have to be stuck in that pattern or on that trajectory of life. 

It is easy to be like everyone else, go with the flow, and fulfill the dreams or expectations of others.  It is less complicated to just fit in, act like everyone else, believe what others believe, live like others are living, continue on the path or trajectory that was started years or decades ago.  But, as W.C. Fields once said, “Remember, a dead fish can float downstream, but it takes a live one to swim upstream.” 

Avraham was called Avraham Ha’Ivri meaning mei’eiver, on the other side.  When the whole world took one position and stood on one side, he had the courage to stand out, remain true to the vision and will of the Almighty and to stand on the other side, even when it meant standing by himself.  He was willing to go against the flow to discover his true self, to pursue his mission, to write his story which has shaped our stories. 

Hashem promised him the Lech Lecha would be L’Tovascha, for his own good, his own benefit and his own pleasure. The same holds true for us. There is nothing better or more fulfilling than the journey of self-discovery and actualization.  Nothing brings more satisfaction than making a difference, than being a blessing.

Hashem spoke to Avraham and He speaks to each of us and invites us to write our own story. The only question is are we listening and are we ready to swim, sometimes even upstream?