Our mission for the year ahead

Rabbi Jessica Shafrin is a chaplain at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital.

By Rabbi Jessica Shafrin

Over this past holiday season, I found myself reflecting on the image of an apple and how it can be used as a tool for reflection, growth and learning. Each piece of the fruit reveals a different aspect of how we can grow in this coming year: the skin, the meaty inside, the seeds and the stem.  The tough yet thin exterior skin helps us to see what walls we put up and also what we protect ourselves from, while the thick, softer, sweeter “meat” pushes us to wonder if our inner selves are a reflection of who we really want to be.  The seeds of potential growth start us on a journey to find out how we want to grow in this coming year. Lastly, the stem is our connector to the tree of life around us, whose roots are grounded and we seek to know how we can strengthen our connections with ourselves, our friends and family, our community, and the world?

Now, it has been over a month since we ate of the apple and wished each other a sweet new year, yet we can clearly see the journey that we travel. At times, we need a small reminder to get us back on track, to re-center ourselves and remind us of where we want to be going. The work that we do to become our best, authentic selves is a lifelong journey, not a short trip full of fun and memories, but a pursuit of discovery.

This week’s parasha, Lech Lecha, opens with God saying to Abraham “Go for yourself from your native land, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). The words lech lecha, translated here as “Go for yourself,” are interpreted by Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner, the Izbitizer Rebbe, as a command to, “Go forth and discover your authentic self, to learn who you are meant to be.”

The verse continues to explain that in order to go on this type of voyage through life, we need to leave some of our comforts behind, we need to become vulnerable and leave some of what is safe and familiar to traverse unknown territory. Each qualifier of the place that Abraham is leaving behind, “land,” “birthplace” and “father’s home” teaches us different aspects that we leave behind on our journey of self-discovery; we need to leave our metaphorical roots behind (our land), that which we think defines us (our birthplace) and other people’s projections of who they think we should be (our father’s home) to find our true roots, our truest expression of our individual selves. 

Nobel Prize Laureate and writer Hermann Hesse uses trees as a model of his ideal spiritual preacher. He says that a tree simply exists and goes about its life, content in its uniqueness and inhabiting only the present moment. As people, attempting to find our place in the world, it is often helpful to think of ourselves momentarily as unique and unencumbered beings. But Hesse summarizes his thoughts saying, “Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”  


Our mission on our journey of self-discovery as taught to us by the apple that we eat and this week’s Torah reading is to find the individual kernel that is in each of us, the one that will cause us to grow and flourish in the year ahead.