It’s Never Too Late (Parashat Lech Lecha)

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu laasok b’divrei Torah.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to engage with words of Torah.

It’s Never Too Late to Change

It may be surprising to some, but the vast majority of coaching clients I’ve worked with are in their sixties or seventies. Sometimes their life has taken an unexpected and dramatic turn. They come to me more or less in free-fall through economic or health related struggles. In other situations, they are facing down a more existential crisis–a realization that their life has stalled, and that they want to be doing something else, something more.

These folks and others like them share something in common with the central figure in this week’s Torah portion, Abraham. Now, reflecting back at what we know about the world’s major religions, Abraham’s importance cannot be understated. Islam, Christianity, and Judaism alike all trace their lineage to this figure.

Yet, Abraham doesn’t make his appearance in the Torah until he is 75 years old!

If ever there was an example of the axiom “it’s never too late to start!” this is it. Abraham embodies that truth. His covenant with G-d, one of–if not the–central themes to the remainder of the Torah, isn’t even formulated until he is 99.

But sure, this is the stuff of legend, right? In scripture, people live well past several centuries, women (including Abraham’s wife, Sarah) give birth very late in life, snakes talk, people get turned into pillars of salt, and all sorts of extraordinary things happen. How’s that supposed to help a modern day American already living beyond his life expectancy?

Fair enough.

This week’s Torah portion doesn’t just say “it’s never too late” and leave it at that though. No, the passage actually opens by describing some rough terrain ahead. Abraham is commanded to go from his land, his birthplace, and from his father’s house, to somewhere he has not even been shown yet.

Let’s sit with the weight of that challenge for a moment. Abraham is being called to a life that is beyond everything familiar to him in the seven and a half decades prior to our story–and there is no guarantee of a future for him if he answers that call.

Like lifelong workers replaced by automation, outsourcing, or new technical skills difficult to acquire, Abraham is being called into a future where the skills he has mastered may no longer be relevant. Like those of us whose hearts long for adventure, Abraham is being called to a place where he will be the stranger. Like those of us realizing the diets and lifestyle choices we were raised on will not support a healthy life for us, Abraham is being called to step out from the patterns and traditions that previously guided him.

And all along the way there are conflicts, plagues, deception, and drama. “It’s never too late to change your life” might as well mean “it’s never too late to willfully pursue stressful and potentially life-threatening situations.”

Despite both those apparent and unanticipated obstacles though, Abraham goes forward. Perhaps that foolhardiness informs why some Kabbalists and Chassids consider the intellect the father of man; Abraham literally goes forth from his intellect.

For Abraham, this decision has little to do with recklessness or even having a clear destination in mind. Recall, at the start of the passage, G-d has not even revealed where Abraham is to go, only that he is to go. In Abraham’s heart, this is a choice that he must make–consequences, potential death, hardship, and failure be damned! He must leave the familiar behind and answer the call within him.

In coaching, we understand that this is the crucial component to anyone’s attempts at changing the course of their lives. There has to be that internal necessity for change. Otherwise, why bother? Isn’t the familiar much more comfortable? 

Whether our journeys are incited by messages from G-d, pink slips from our employer, or test results ordered by a doctor, it’s up to us as individuals to choose whether and how we will answer their call.

Perhaps then there is another “go forth from” Abraham is challenged by in this passage–himself. Where are we in life? Are we happy there? Are we content? What needs to change? And, most importantly, how far are we willing to go to change it?

If Abraham’s journey is any indicator of what we might expect, the path ahead is dangerous. Yet there’s something rewarding at a soul level when we say yes, when we refuse to accept complacency, and when we choose to go forth anyway.

That kind of journey, that kind of reward, that kind of positive consequence–it’s never too late for us to pursue.

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