The Courage to Reach
I love how the Ramchal begins the Mesilat Yesharim: he says that he is not here to share anything new, but to remind us of things we already know that we forget. In the month of Elul, leading up to the Yamim Nora’im, I found myself coming back to the words of the Ramchal often, and I wondered how I forgot what was important to me. I did a cheshbon hanefesh and wondered: If I were to look at my life, what values would my actions show? For so many teachers, the opening lines of The Rav (zt”l) in The Lonely Man of Faith, where he admits to feeling alone, even among many people, and of Parker Palmer in his book The Courage To Teach, when he admits that as a teacher he often feels like a fraud or an imposter, strike such a powerful chord. After all, who am I to talk and to lead, when I myself am so imperfect?
I must admit that I don't like to dwell on these thoughts too long, but they do come up, especially in this season of teshuva. So what do we do with them? How can we harness this healthy imposter syndrome to elevate us rather than allowing it to hold us back?
Moshe Rabbeinu anticipated this insecurity in the end of Devarim, and told us that there would be times when we want some one else to tell us what to do--to guide us; to find the answer; to do the difficult, vulnerable work of living our values. In answer to that, we are told that this doing, belonging, and this life of service and mitzvah, is not beyond us in any way. In fact, he says:
It is close to you. Note: he does not say that doing the right thing is easy or smooth or even clear. Moshe Rabbeinu says it is close to us, in our mouths and hearts--it is accessible. Why use the language of "karov" or "close" to describe our ability to access the mitzvot?
The Orchot Tzadikim explains that this word "karov" parallels another time we say "karov"-- in fact, three times a day in Ashrei--that Hashem is "karov" to those who call out to Him. There are so many things that we have within our reach, so many opportunities that are just a little outside of our comfort zone that we have to reach for them, and we are told that if we have the courage to reach out, to push ourselves, then serving Hashem and being close to Him is, indeed, within our reach. But, we must be willing and open to reaching, every single day, again and again and again. The key to serving is to be willing to reach, because doing good is within our grasp if we push ourselves and try.