“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I…?” – Pirkei Avot 1:14
Avraham is the paradigm of chesed and compassion, of doing for others. For this reason, it is surprising to read Rashi’s commentary on the opening words of parshat Lech Lecha. Rashi, noting the “kefel lashon,” double language, interprets the words “lech lecha” as: Go for YOURSELF. Going on this journey to an unspecified destination was for Avraham’s own benefit: “להנאתך ולטובתך.” By going forth and having faith in Hashem, Avraham will be rewarded with becoming a father, not only of his own children, but also of a great nation. The Zohar, similarly interprets “lech lecha” as “go unto yourself…to know and to fix yourself.” Before Avraham could inspire others he needed to journey inward and strengthen himself.
A similar idea is expressed by two great thinkers on mindfulness as we awaken. Rav Kook, in Olat Reiyah, comments on the “Modeh ani” prayer: When we wake up and are awestruck by the vastness of the universe, we might feel small and insignificant. By emphasizing the I (ani), and drawing on our inner strength and gratitude to God, “the individual self remains undaunted, the ‘I’ finds divine confirmation and validation.” Rebbe Nachman of Breslav shares a similar thought in his commentary on the opening words of the Shulchan Aruch – that a person should awaken with zest like a lion. Rebbe Nachman, sensitive to human nature, understood that sometimes people wake up and feel unhappy with themselves, distant from God and unmotivated. Hence, he suggests finding a “nekuda tova,” a good point to focus and build on within oneself.
This is a particularly relevant message for our time, as increasing numbers of people are feeling unhappy and unmotivated. “Modeh ani” provides an opportunity each morning to go to/for oneself and discover one’s personal uniqueness and potential. Shabbat Shalom – Karen Miller Jackson