Who Are We?
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
Abraham is commanded by God to leave his birthplace and travel to an undefined destination. God instructs him ‘Go to yourself, from your land, and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.’ The words ‘Go to yourself’ are particularly difficult to understand. God wanted Abraham to change his physical location and that seemingly has nothing to do with this strange expression ‘Go to yourself’?
I would humbly like to suggest the following: All of us have a mental image of who and what we are. This mental image is really a string of thoughts as follows. My name is such and such, I was born to these parents in country XYZ. My education is … My accomplishments are… I enjoy…. My friends are…. My strengths are… My weaknesses are… I have met such and such people…. And the list goes on… But one needs to ask oneself a number of revealing questions. Am I just a bunch of thoughts? One’s own thoughts and perceptions are incredibly subjective, perhaps our own mental images of ourselves are not accurate? Does that mean I am living a delusion? The fact that I say ‘I think’ or ‘these are my thoughts’ implies that the ‘I’ and the ‘my’ are not the thoughts themselves. So who/what is the ‘I’ and the ‘me’?
I believe this to be the interpretation. God says to Abraham: I want you to discover who you really are. I want you to ‘Go to yourself.’ Abraham, in order to do this, you must come to the realization that your mental image of yourself based on your birthplace, family etc., is not fundamentally who/what you are. Strip yourself of your previous mental images of yourself and discover who you really are. Travel inwards and you will see that you are a divine soul, something infinitely greater than your thoughts, life experiences, and life circumstances.
What exactly a spiritual divine soul is, lies beyond my field of expertise. However, the Telzer Rov, Rabbi Yosef Yehudah Leib Bloch, explains that the fundamental distinction between a human being (imbued with a divine soul) and an animal (lacking a divine soul) is the ability to be aware of what one is doing and thinking. If you spend some quiet time actively beginning to notice and be aware of yourself, you will see you can watch your thoughts and actions as an external observer. The watcher is YOU, the awareness of watching your thoughts and your movements emanates from the soul. The more we go to ourselves and become self-aware, the more we realize we are not our thoughts, but rather something infinitely greater and more meaningful. This realization is tremendously liberating. We don’t have to take our thoughts so seriously and get wrapped up in them, they are not us, they are simply thoughts. Let us follow Abraham’s example and embark on an exciting journey of self-discovery.