I will never forget what happened that night. After going to hundreds of lectures, and giving quite a few myself, I thought I’d seen it all. But I had never seen anything quite like this. To give you a little background, there are protocols for the introductory process of a speech. At major events, like the one taking place that night, there are always two microphones. The first is for the person who gets up to introduce the main speaker. After finishing his introduction, he walks off with his microphone, and the second microphone is waiting on stage for the main speaker.
But not that night. That night there was only one microphone. After the first speaker concluded his opening remarks, the main speaker walked onto the stage and headed towards the podium. But as you already guessed, the introductory speaker was still holding onto the only microphone. At this point, the main speaker was expecting him to simply hand over the microphone so that he could begin his speech. But instead the introductory speaker kept holding the microphone. He then took a deep breath and said something I will never forget.
A Journey Into the Unknown
When Hashem commands Avraham to leave his home and embark on a journey, Avraham is told “Go for yourself, from your land….” (Bereishis 12:1). This directive is quite strange. Avraham is told where to leave from but not his destination. What kind of journey lacks a destination? Generally, the destination, not the starting point, is most important. For example, imagine being invited to a wedding and being told only where to leave from. Good luck getting to that wedding!
The fact that Avraham is not told his destination is a fundamental challenge to the idea of a meaningful venture. In order to accomplish anything great, we must first identify a clear target and then determine the path required to get there. One does not accidentally achieve spiritual greatness; it requires extreme focus and dedication. A great journey must begin with a clear goal and destination. As we say every Friday evening in Lecha Dodi: “Sof ma’aseh be’machshavah techilah – The physical result originates first within the mind.” Only when we first determine a clear destination can we achieve the extraordinary. If so, why wasn’t Avraham given a clear destination for his journey?
Lech Lecha: No Simple Journey
The answer to this question lies within the words “lech lecha.” While this phrase is often translated as “go for yourself,” it can also be translated as “go to yourself.” Avraham was commanded to embark on a journey toward “himself” – toward his true and ultimate self. In a genuine journey to the self, we don’t know the destination; we don’t know where it will take us. All we know is where we’re leaving from – where we are right now. Only once we arrive can we retroactively see where the journey was taking us all along. Of course, we have goals and proposed directions, but anyone who has achieved anything of substance knows that the vision they once had is nothing like the actual journey they took. The goals create the process, but the actual journey transcends the limited goals that initially motivated the journey.
The inability to fully understand the destination of one’s own growth can be compared to a child’s inability to grasp a complex scientific or spiritual concept. Imagine explaining to a young child the relationship between quantum mechanics and general relativity, or the unique connection between the physical and spiritual world, or the different approaches to a complex Gemara sugya (topic in Talmud). The child’s limited intellect cannot grasp such sophisticated and abstract ideas.
The same is true for each of us: imagine meeting a younger version of yourself and explaining all the things you will eventually accomplish, all the ideas you will learn, and all the experiences you will have. Your younger self would be unable to grasp the full meaning of this conversation. Now imagine instead that your older self does the same to your present self. The same would happen; you would not even begin to understand all that you will eventually become. You can have lofty goals and a clear direction, but that simply creates the journey. What will actually happen is a mystery. Therefore, to genuinely venture on the path toward your true self requires a leap of faith into the unknown, ready to embrace whatever future Hashem has in store for you.
This is why Hashem didn’t give Avraham a clear destination. In a journey to the self, we don’t know what we’ll find along the way, the challenges we’ll face, what people will think, or if we will even succeed. To embark on such a journey, we need to step outside our comfort zone, overcome our fears and take the unpaved and uncharted path, the path toward greatness. Avraham was not the only one entrusted with a lech lecha journey. Each of us is entrusted with this mission as well – each one of us must embark on our own lech lecha journey to our ultimate selves.
The Punchline to Your Story
There is probably something bothering you, something in the back of your mind making you a bit uncomfortable. Did you forget something, is there something missing? Perhaps it’s the fact that the introductory story had a setup, but no punchline, a beginning but no conclusion. Did you think I forgot about that?
Everyone will agree that a story needs an ending; unless a story goes somewhere, it’s pointless. The purpose of a setup is to lead towards a conclusion. A story without an ending is not a story worth telling.
The same is true for our lives: we need a destination. We are all part of a larger story, but we’re also writing our own individual stories. Hashem created us in this world with unlimited potential, but that was only the “setup.” Without a purposeful direction, a clear goal, and a deeper understanding of who you are and who you are meant to be, the set up lacks its true meaning. We need to make this a meaningful journey, a story of growth, creativity, and contribution.
And while the ultimate destination remains unknown, the journey towards it is the essence of our lech lecha mission. My hope is that my book, The Journey to Your Ultimate Self, will serve as a guide and tool as you embark on your personal lech lecha journey towards your ultimate self. Make your life a meaningful journey, an extraordinary story; go write your punchline.