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Are You Afraid of Yourelf?
By Yosef Y. Jacobson

Wisdom of a child

A child sees the bulletin of the Synagogue announcing that the congregation had just hired a new rabbi, his name is Rabbi Dr. Epstein. The child is so excited that the new rabbi is also a doctor, that the next time he has a stomach ache, he calls the Synagogue.
"I would like to speak to the Rabbi Dr.," the boy says. The rabbi gets on the line and asks how he can be of help. "Well rabbi, the boy says, I have a stomach ache and I was wondering what you suggest I do." 
"Sorry son, I'm not a medical doctor," replies the rabbi.
"What type of doctor are you?" asks the boy. "I am a Dr. of Philosophy," was the response.
The child thought for a moment and then asked, "What type of sickness is that?"

Definition of Chutzpah

Chutzpah is going to the psychiatrist because of a split personality, and
asking for a group rate.
-- A Jew

The opening scene

The entire history and mystery of Judaism commences in the Bible with the following episode:

"G-d said to Abraham, 'Go to yourself, from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father's house to land that I will show you.

"'And I will make you a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing . . . all the families of the earth will be blessed through you (1).'"

Abraham follows through. He leaves his home, travels with his family to Canaan (later to become Eretz Israel) where he becomes the founding father of a people that has stood out in the presence of all civilizations and cultures since.

What's the point?

A few questions come to mind (2):

1) It would seem that this instruction of G-d to Abraham -- the first communication between G-d and Abraham, and the opening scene of the entire Jewish story -- to leave his home would encapsulate the essence and the mission statement of the Judaic message. But where can one recognize here any philosophical or spiritual depth other than a commandment to relocate homes?

2) What is the meaning of the words, "Go to yourself, from your land, birthplace and father's house." How do you "go to yourself" when you leave your home?

Knowing the meticulousness in each word and phrase in the Bible, two more questions arise:

3) The words "from your birthplace and from your father's house" seem superfluous. If you leave your land, haven't you automatically left your birthplace and your father's home?

4) For whatever reason the Torah finds it necessary to specify all three locations, the order should have been reversed. First you leave your father's home, then you leave your birthplace and only afterward do you leave your land. It wouldn't make sense to tell somebody, "Go from the U.S., go from California and go from Malibu." If you've left the United States you have by definition left its West Coast as well.

5) Why was it only through relocating homes that Abraham could become the father of a "great nation" and a source of blessing for the world?

The forces that shape us

Most of us have been molded by three primary influences: our land, our birthplace and our parents' homes.

Our land, which includes the government, the culture, the media, the literature and the heroes of our country; our birthplace, which includes the educational and social institutions of our communities; and our parents' homes, the nature of our parents and family -- these are the forces that shape our perspectives, characters and lifestyles.

On a deeper level, each of us possesses these three dimensions in his or her own psyche:

The Hebrew term for "your land" -- artzecah -- can be translated as "your cravings (3)."

The Hebrew term for "your birthplace" -- moladetecah -- can be translated as "your inborn nature."

The Hebrew term used for "your father's home" -- "beis avecah" -- is explained in Kabbalah (4) to denote "the home of your intellect." Just as parents serve the function of defining reality for their children, so too is the function of our minds and intellects in each of our lives.

Thus says G-d to Abraham and to every human being in search of his or her identity: "Go to yourself, from your cravings, from your inborn tendencies and from your intellectual paradigms." It's only by doing so that will you discover yourself, your true self, your deepest "I."

The soul of a craving

There are three major obstacles that lie in the road toward self-discovery.

The first is your cravings, impulses and urges.

Each of us is dominated by our individual set of cravings. Are you infatuated with a particular person? Are you starving for attention, compliments and approval? Do you crave nicotine, alcohol or dope? Are you obsessed with an unceasing urge for physical intimacy? Are you in love with food? Do you enjoy dominating and controlling other people's lives?

Although a superficial reading of life would dictate that pursuing your cravings constitutes the road to self-gratification and self-actualization, the truth is that fulfilling your cravings alienates you from your self in a most powerful way.

Why? Because most cravings conceal more then they reveal. Beneath each craving is a subconscious void, a crying child. At the core of an infatuation with another human being or an obsession with intimacy, food or attention, may be the longing of one's
soul for a sense of inner worth and dignity, for companionship, vulnerability and genuine self fulfillment.

Our psyches, however, distort our clarity and attribute false symbolism to essentially hollow pursuits. As a result of this distortion we squander our time and passion pursuing our urges and impulses in the mistaken belief that they will fill the void in our heart and nourish the hunger of our souls.

If you truly wish to grow, you must muster the courage and strength to "go from your cravings," to declare, "No!" to self-indulgent cravings.

Who moved my cheese?

The next -- and much more difficult -- step is, "Go from your inborn tendencies."

Many of us possess our own "comfort zone" from which we dare not venture. We have our hobbies, friends, environments, lifestyles and schedules. Although these ingrained habits seem intrinsic to our identity, they can become one of the greatest obstacles to genuine self-awareness and fulfillment, as they ensure that our entire lives revolve around familiar circumstances and that we respond to situations in almost a robotic fashion.

If you wish to find your self, you must "Go from your inborn habits," challenging your comfort zone and engaging in things that are extremely uncomfortable. Let go of the image and the persona through which you project yourself on a daily basis.

Leaving the paradigms

The next and most difficult step is to "leave your intellectual home."

Our cravings appeal to us in the name of enjoyment. Our habits appeal to us in the name of comfort and familiarity. But our philosophical paradigms call out to us in the name of truth. They claim to carry the torch of objective reality, when in truth they often allow us to remain stuck in the quagmire of our mediocrity.

Most of us construct a pair of glasses through which we view ourselves and the world around us. All of our opinions, convictions and passions, and many of our behaviors, are symptoms of this philosophical paradigm we built for ourselves. We often convince ourselves that our common sense and rational conclusions are the ultimate harbinger of truth.

In order to encounter your deeper self, you must be ready to open yourself up to a different way of thinking.

What's left?

"Go from your cravings, from your habits, from your way of thinking," is the call of G-d to every human that wishes to listen.

"If I leave all of this," I ask, "What will be left of me?"

"Yourself," says G-d to man. "Your self, that is what will be left of you."

The very core of your existence. The untouchable quintessential "I" that is not molded or defined by anything or anybody outside of itself. That indescribable space that
constitutes the essence of your dignity, unshakable and unalterable.

That essential state of being where man and G-d stand face to face -- that is what will be left when you let go of all your layers.

A source of blessing

Once you reach this space within you, you can become a great nation and a source of blessing for the entire world, G-d tells Abraham. For as long as you have not made peace with your true inner self, you can never really be there for somebody else in the world. Every relationship will contain a parasitic component to it, as you are in a perpetual state of yearning for genuine self-awareness.

Only when the I encounters my true inner I, can I put myself on the side for another human being.

Thus begins the journey of Abraham -- the journey of the first Jew. For is this not the mission statement of Judaism? To restore to humanity its lost dignity.


1) Genesis 12:1-2;4.
2) All the following questions are discussed among the biblical commentators. See Keli Yakar, Or Hachaim, at al.
3) The etymology of the word artzecah is ratz, the source of the word ratzon, which means will or craving.
4) See Tanya chapter 3.
5) This essay is based on a talk by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shabbas Lech 5750, October 11, 1989. Published in Sefer Hasichos 5750 vol. 1. Cf. references noted there to many of the themes discussed in this essay.

My gratitude to Shmuel Levin, a writer and editor in Pittsburgh, for his editorial assistance.

Posted on February 16, 2005
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