The Great Sifting
The gifts we receive from our parents
My father, I have been told, was a prodigious power hitter in the local softball games. I tried but ultimately failed at adding this 5th tool in my nascent baseball career. My mother was a connector of people in her young adult years, something I still try to build my life around. In addition to these two details, there are many other wonderful attributes to which I aspire from my parents.
Our parents, or others who served in that role, create incredible impressions on us from our youngest years. So many of our values and goals come from those stages of life. The other side of that coin though is that there are plenty of things our parents gave us that we have to work on shedding.
One of my wife’s early mentors in education told her that a great way to measure success in parenting is that if your children go to therapy, it should be for totally different reasons than what you go to therapy for. In her bitingly honest words, “You’re going to screw them up. Aim to make different mistakes than the ones that were made with you.”
The two of us often laugh about this in our own journeys from our lives growing up, but it is deeply instructive. To make different mistakes, we all have to do the work of figuring out what those behaviors or choices are that we want to veer away from. This is immensely challenging. So much so that I believe we find an early instance of it from our parshah this week.
When Avram is told “go” in Lekh Lekha, he is told to do so “from his land, from his birthplace, and from his father’s house.” Without any other context, any reader should look at that and wonder why exactly it needs to specify that triad of locations. Wouldn’t it have been enough to just say “go from your land?”
Noam Elimelekh of Lizhensk, one of the great early chassidic masters from Poland in the 18th century points to these places and their relationship to our own upbringings. After detailing the first one as leaving our earthly desires, he argues that going “from your birth place” is actually the recognition of the less than desirable attributes we have been “gifted” from those that brought us into the world. When Avram was commanded to go from his birth place, it was actually a command to do some serious introspective work of realizing what are the things that he needed to move away from that came from his father.
I find it both comforting and complex that this challenge has been around for so long. On one hand, is it ever solvable? Probably not! But, that doesn’t mean that working at it doesn’t provide results.
Those who tended to us from birth are complex people. Hopefully, they provide for us a great many positives around which we can build our lives. Within that gift too is the clarity of vision and strength to recognize that we are not destined to live out everything that they did. So where are you going? What did your parents give you to get you there? And in a timely divine prompt, what do you need to rid yourself of to fully arrive?
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Journeyings