Parshat Lech-Lecha: “Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy!”

Seascape near Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer  by   Vincent van Gogh   , June 1888

Seascape near Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer by Vincent van Gogh, June 1888


We've all heard Albert Einstein's popular line: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” As it turns out, insanity might be crediting this quote to Einstein over and over again. He never said it…

Albeit the misinterpretation, if this theory of insanity holds any validity, I do believe we’re all a bit insane (maybe not as loopy as Kanye West’s monologue in the Oval Office). But how often do we do walk the same walk, talk the same talk, and expect a different outcome? In relationships, our jobs, our health, or skillsets? We change nothing about our lives, and yet, expect the world to come knocking on our front door. We eat the same things, and expect to lose weight over night. As if good intentions were enough to alter our world in any way. As author Trent Hamm explains:

Human beings are creatures of routine. Even the most spontaneous among us stick to a lot of routines and habits in life. For us, it is challenging to try different approaches to the problems in our life. Yet, that phrase still holds true. The things you did yesterday have brought you to the life you have today. If you want something different, you have to do something different today to create a different life tomorrow. There’s no other way to get there. If you want different results than what you’re getting, you have to try different approaches. You have to be unafraid to push yourself and risk failure. There isn’t some magic spell that will move you from where you’re at to where you need to be to. It’s up to you.”

In parshat Lech-Lecha God says to Abraham:

“Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, And I will bless you; I will make your name great, And you shall be a blessing.” [1]

Here, God provides Abraham two import pieces of advice: (1) You have to leave your comfort zone. You have to step outside the boundaries of what you already know to embody new ways of thought (e.g., monotheism). If you want to grow, you have to push yourself and risk failure. As the saying goes (also probably misattributed): “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” While difficult, if we don’t push boundaries and limits we’ll never expand our worldview.

‘Every second of the search is an encounter with God,’ the boy told his heart. ‘When I have been truly searching for my treasure, every day has been luminous, because I’ve known that every hour was a part of the dream that I would find it. When I have been truly searching for my treasure, I’ve discovered things along the way that I never would have seen had I not had the courage to try things that seemed impossible for a shepherd to achieve.’
— Paulo Coelho, "The Alchemist"

(2) Change has to come from You. You have to be the catalyst for your own transformation. As Rashi explains concerning this verse, “‘Go forth’  – literally, ‘Go for yourself’for your own benefit, for your own good: there I will make of you a great nation whilst here you will not merit the privilege...” And no, this isn’t selfish. As the airlines always remind us, “Before you assist others, always put your oxygen mask on first.” If you want to change the world, start by changing yourself. If you want to help others, start by helping yourself. Essentially, God rewards those who help themselves. It’s the old punchline where God says the drowning man in heaven: "I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?"

This week, we are reminded simply to “Go!” Get out of your routine. Drive a new way to work. Walk a new path. Bike a new road. Stray from normal. As Ms. Frizzle says, “Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy!” If life isn’t going the way you want it to, don’t wait for it to change. Be the change. Like Abraham, go searching.

This is why alchemy exists, the boy said. So that everyone will search for his treasure, find it, and then want to be better than he was in his former life. Lead will play its role until the world has no further need for lead; and then lead will have to turn itself to gold. That’s what alchemists do. They show that, when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.
— Paulo Coelho, "The Alchemist"

[1] Genesis 12:1-2

Aaron Sataloff