Rosh Hashanah Reflections from Lisa Biton
As summer turns to fall and we prepare for the new school year at Alexander Muss High School in Israel, my mind always turns to lesson planning and my goals for the new year. One of the first questions I ask my students the very first day is: “Where should we begin our study of Jewish history?” Does Judaism start with creation? With Abraham? With Moses and the 10 commandments? All of these answers are valid. I choose to start my year with Abraham.
The first time we meet Abraham is a bit of a shock. We know nothing of his history, what kind of person he is, or anything more than a basic family tree. Suddenly G-d appears to him and says “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you”. The Hebrew used is the command “Lech Lecha”. Anyone who has ever learned a second language can attest that often translations loose the power and true meaning of the original text. So how can we translate this command?
At it most basic English translation it seems easy. G-d tells Abraham to go forth, to leave, to change his surroundings from everything he is used to. But why use the double command? Why said “go to yourself”, rather than just “go”? The great Rabbi Rashi explains that the best translation is “Journey for yourself”. The command is more than just to leave. G-d is asking Abraham to leave his family, his homeland and everything he knows, but he is also demanding more than that.
When someone, like our high school students at Alexander Muss, choose to leave their homes and schools in America to study abroad in Israel they are doing more than just leaving. By living in a foreign country, by changing their situation, they are opening their eyes to a whole new perspective on the world. Sometimes the only way to discover our path for the future is to separate ourselves from the past. Only by leaving the safety of their childhood home can our students truly question the path and beliefs they will follow in the future.
The Torah commentary in “Etz Hayim” prefers the interpretation “Go forth to find your authentic self, to learn who you are meant to be”. While a physical change of location can be influential in challenging ourselves, the G-ds’ main command goes much deeper. He knows that Abraham has so much to offer the world, but if he blindly follows the culture and world he grew up in, then he will never find his true self. We cannot rely on others to tell us who we are, we must constantly challenge ourselves to follow the sometimes lonely journey of self discovery.
As we head into the new year I offer you the same blessing. May you use this new year to challenge yourself, whether it’s exposing yourself to a new culture or language, or taking the time to learn a new text or read a new book. And just as Abraham took the leap to leave the comforts of his home, our students at Alexander Muss High School are about to venture far from their homes into a brand new challenge here in Israel. May it be a great year!