Dear Readers,

Where do you go when you want to get in touch with yourself? When life seems to be spinning out of control, do you escape to a special place, perhaps a beautiful retreat alone?

What do you do when you want to feel alive with every fiber and every pore of your being pulsating? Do you go for a run, paint, dance, sing or do something that pushes you to your limits?

When you’re feeling distraught, what do you do to calm yourself? Do you try a new experience or do you revert to what is familiar to you?

One of the oldest debates in psychology is the nature versus nurture debate. Are a person’s actions predisposed by DNA or do life experiences create a lasting influence on one’s behavior and decisions in life? Are we born this way, or have we become this way due to our environment?

And does the debate perhaps go deeper? Are we merely products of our genes and our environment, or is there a higher self that we can strive to be that’s totally independent of both our natural instincts and background?

In this week’s Torah portion, Abraham is told to leave everything that is familiar to him in order to find a deeper part of himself.

“Go you from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you.” (Gen. 12:1)

The Chassidic masters explain: Eretz, the Hebrew word for land, is etymologically related to the word ratzon—will and desire; so your land also translates as your natural desires. Your birthplace, moladtecha, is a reference to the influence of home and society. And beitavicha, your father’s house, refers to man as a mature and rational being, forging his mind-set, character and behavior with the transcendent objectivity of the intellect.

Just as a seed develops into a thriving plant after it first decomposes in the ground, sometimes we need to leave everything familiar to us—our natural environment, our automatic responses, our usual inclinations, even our rational self—in order to find greater growth. Away from the lights and observations of others (and free of our own self-imposed predilections), we experience the unbounded power of a new self.

Leaving behind the old “I” of everything I know and love can be really scary. The seed buried deep down in the earth seemingly decomposes into nothingness. But free from these limiting expectations, like the seed, we can also produce our greatest yield.

So, this week, let’s think about how we can free ourselves from the limits of both nature and nurture to discover our greatest selves. What can we do in one area of our lives that would free us from external and internal expectations to reach unknown terrain? Let’s start this journey by sharing ideas in the comments below.

Wishing you a week of unbounded potential!

Chana Weisberg

Editor, TJW