We’re conditioned to evaluate actions based on results, and often measure success through quantifiable outputs. Completing a challenge correctly is what counts — as visible success is typically what’s celebrated.
Yet, there’s a subtlety to success that often eludes us. The charge behind the productivity, that motivates and inspires, inevitably colors the experience and ever-so subtly impacts the results.
At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, the parashah of Lech Lecha, the patriarch Abraham is commanded by God to “Go for yourself, from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” This enigmatic commandment is followed by some significant incentives: “And I will make you a great nation, I will make your name great and you will be a blessing. And I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you, and all the families of the earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:1-3) Abraham immediately packs up his family and possessions and leaves, eventually arriving in Canaan.
As commentators explain (see Rashi and Nahmanides ibid, for examples), this episode demonstrates Abraham’s deep commitment to God. Leaving one’s hometown and extended family in a major Mesopotamian city for an unspecified destination more than 1000 miles away, with discomfort and danger on the road, is one of the early examples of self-sacrifice in the Torah.
This, according to commentators, is the key characteristic that identified Abraham as a fitting patriarch for the Jewish people. We’re beginning the character study of an individual who traversed many complicated adventures motivated, not by personal ego, physical safety, familial concerns or spiritual gains, but by an unwavering love and devotion. Despite the promises of greatness and aggrandizement in this week’s Torah portion, the text continues, seemingly superfluously, with the emphasis that Abraham acted “as God had spoken to him.” This line highlights an absolute love, which eclipsed his own personal needs and even the promise of reward, as he left his homeland. God later refers to Abraham outright as “Abraham who loves me.” (Isaiah 41:8)
Perpetuating the commitment of Abraham in embracing Judaism’s ritual expressions from a place of love is a charge to Jews generations later. Experiences that are embraced with enthusiasm and passion fare differently that those apathetically negotiated; the residual impact on the relationship is empowered by the emotional undercurrents that cannot be seen. When you do something for someone you care about, even if it’s difficult, do it with love.