By Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein, Executive Director
In my first year teaching elementary school, I was still naive enough to be surprised at a Manhattan five-year-old’s hopes for the new school year. “I want to do a good job in school so I can go to a good high school, and get into a good college, and get a good job, and make a lot of money.” Clearly, her experiences (and likely her grown-ups’) had already shaped her kindergarten view of life to indicate that making a lot of money was her goal, and that academic achievement was the path to getting there.
This week, a recent college graduate came to talk to me at the start of her career, looking to understand my work and also my path to becoming Executive Director of the 14th Street Y. Looking back at my own career path, I heard myself saying, “Doors and windows. I had an idea of what I wanted to affect in the world, and how I work best. I wasn’t sure exactly where I was going, but I followed an uncertain path through the doors open to me, and when a door closed, I looked for an open window.” I never imagined that the path would lead to being the director of a large community center in downtown Manhattan—but doing this work in our community, clearly I have found the right destination!
Some of us know from a young age where we hope to go in life, and some of us feel certain that we know how to get there. Many of us seek “success,” however we define it. Many of us also seek to live lives of meaning and purpose. Most of us find, at least by middle age, that life’s paths are nearly always circuitous, that the road can be very bumpy, and that the destination has changed along way.
Jewish tradition begins with the narrative of a journey, and the story of Abraham’s journey* towards an unknown land is a powerful allegory for our lives. This story is the basis of a Jewish sensibility we can call “Lekh Lekha,” which literally means “Take yourself and go.” These are the words that the young Abram (later called Abraham) is instructed as he begins his journey. Called to leave his childhood home, he is told that the destination will be revealed on the journey itself.
This sensibility, Lekh Lekha, suggests that we value life’s journey even more than its destination. If we walk on that journey with a clear sense of our values, an idea of what we want to affect in the world, and wisdom regarding how we want to work, then according to Jewish tradition, we are on the right path. Walking on that right path, with an orientation towards the direction we hope to go, the right destination will reveal itself along the way.
Too often, I feel that most of us have been conditioned like that five-year-old: success means having the most toys at the end of what quickly becomes a zero-sum game. What if more of us took the Lekh Lekha approach, and worked to move forward in life with more regard for the journey itself as a fulfillment of our values and aspirations? With this perspective, it may be easier to take that next step, and find that the right destination reveals itself along the way.