Congregations across the world recall this week when Biblical Abraham was told to “go for yourself” by Almighty God, but in his case, to a land still unrevealed. Many of us today may be considering or are already travelling to places not yet personally discovered for purposes that relate in some way to serving humanity. We may be at this moment residing in a location unknown to us prior to arriving to pursue a mission beyond ourselves, such as inclusive, positive community change.
Most of us, though, are not as fortunate as Abraham to have also been given awesome assurances when he was told by God to depart from his birthplace, his extended family, and parents. Before he took his first step, which to his great credit he did without delay and without stopping, he was granted the knowledge that his monumental journey would result in his descendants becoming nations, that his name would be made majestic across time, and that whoever were to show him kindness or cruelty would receive the same in kind. Prior to Abraham embarking on his journey, comforted with the belief that such benefits will be delivered by the same total power that filled his heart and compelled him to “go for himself” to begin with, enabled his feelings of excitement and no worries, as the Midrash explains.
We who are drawn to larger-than-ourselves causes that take us to lands not our own for an uncertain amount of time, are really without any guarantee of any outcome or safety. In fact, the only near certainty, which Abraham also experienced, is that we will incur feelings of alienation from onlookers, including from our own families, who may not only not wish the same for themselves but view this kind of aimless wandering as outright strange, a label often with tremendous sticking ability.
In addition to having to endure isolation, historically and biblically far off travels to answer a heart’s calling are associated with having no progeny and diminished wealth, having to start over and build again. Abraham’s level of faith, yes, buttressed by God’s assurance and, soon, covenant, is an example we need to help us endure the terrible and dangerous trials that are more often part of journeys to serve the needs of collectives of people.
It is incumbent upon us who do contemplate these kinds of extremely difficult and somehow rewarding walks of life to really focus on how we make the decision to first assume these paths. For Abraham, it came to him in revelation. For others, in order to minimize self-doubt along the way and have the deep well of energy needed to continue onward and see the experience through, we also require an important level of confidence in our decisions. Inputs and thoughts from people who genuinely seek our own best interest can be helpful, but what is for certain is that the decision must be our own. This often occurs in a quiet place where we are fully seeking to comprehend and abide by our intuitive selves and involves some measure of clarity (hopefully a lot) in our reception from within. One may be reminded of a Native American practice among 18-year-olds who go on a vision quest for three days and return more in tune with higher purposes for their own lives.
My “go for yourself” journey began 30 years ago, entering the Peace Corps as a Volunteer in Morocco, where I am today. Upon whether to come to Morocco, a dear friend suggested I enter a room and not leave, eat, or drink until I knew the answer, and only at the very end of three hours in the washroom (where it could be just me) was it clear to me to join. And no matter what befell me during years that followed – multiple diseases and distrust toward me in all too ample measures – doubt never came, despite the fact that I feel an ever-present fear of the precariousness and tragedies of life.
I must admit that a few years prior to joining the Peace Corps when I was travelling through northern Israel in the city of Safed, I learned of the lore that whoever immerses oneself in the ritual bath (mikvah) of Ari the Kabbalist (Rabbi Isaac Luria), who lived in the mid-16th century, would one day have a moment of clarity. I did immerse myself in that bath at 21 years old. The decision to join the Peace Corps was made in a moment of clarity that did enable me to never look back (so far), and it was in a sense the only decision I ever made in my life.
What is important is that a decision involving departure points in life is owned by the maker and that it is one that if we were to regularly rethink after taking the “go for yourself” road, the added burden that uncertainty brings would make the journey hardly bearable, if at all. In the same way, local communities need to make their decisions and control the development projects that impact their lives, in order for those projects (and decisions) to be sustained.
Enduring the isolation of a “go for yourself” personal and collective development journey is what could be the overriding feature of at least the initial part of the experience. It is very helpful to live comfortably with one’s inner self, or internal voice, so that it becomes your constant companion: the voice of the writer, the voice of the reader, the voice of hoping and evaluating. Writing daily at regular times not only sharpens a skill that transformatively serves us on personal and professional levels, but is also an increasingly friendly outlet for expression, reflection, and emotional balance.
Finally, the Ramban (Moses ben Nachman, born in the 12th century) states the actual intent when we “go for yourself,” which is our going for all people. Success is the means and the end, the journey and the result, but the end is not the journey alone. In the same way, people interactively planning change is an empowering process, but not complete without implementing and measurably uplifting life conditions. Our journey for ourselves is for others, and our reward, like Abraham’s, we shall never really see.