Is this Arieh?”
“Yes, it’s me.”
“Wow. I have heard such amazing reports. I can’t believe it. I understand your year in Israel has really … changed you!”
Those sentiments were sent toward me from more than one person in my year studying in Israel after high school. I detested these conversations. Yes, I had grown as a person and a Jew since I was in America. But did I change who I was? I was still me. I was still Arieh like I was before. Right?
Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr aptly said, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Perhaps he meant it cynically. Although many things appear to evolve on their surface, the core of everything remains unchanging. Indeed, some things do not change. We all know that one person who hasn’t been able to find their keys for 35 years.
But the idea of things remaining unchanged can be understood in a different way, too.
This week’s parsha is named after two of the earliest and most important words in Jewish history. “Lech lecha – Go for yourself … to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1) With these words, Abraham was instructed to embark upon the journey that the Jewish people have continued to this day. But this journey is not just a journey to the Jewish homeland.
Rabbi Sholom Noach Berezovsky wrote in his famous work, “Nesivas Shalom,” Abraham was commanded not just to go forward, but specifically to depart from his “native land, place of his birth and his father’s house.” One by one. Growth is a constant process of measuring ourselves with our surroundings one layer after another.
Another translation of “Lech lecha,” is, “go to yourself.” Am I absolutely sure that my views in the world are my own and not a byproduct of the society in which I grew up? If I believe that my hometown sports team is the best just because I grew up there, what else do I champion in authentically? Do I believe in the values of my parents just because they said so, or have I arrived at their core through my own investigation?
In Judaism, when we grow, we do not change. We go to our deepest selves. On the outside, growth may appear to others as if we are becoming more and more different. The one who grows, however, only changes the level of commitment to the truths they hold dear. We journey into ourselves and anchor our reality in the world that changes around us.
Rabbi Arieh Friedner is the founder of Torah Institute Beyond Campus, a semi-virtual learning platform for motivated Jewish college students seeking mentorship and study opportunities beyond those available to them on or off-campus.