Do you expand your envelope? Are you comfortable discovering new ideas, experimenting with the unfamiliar, venturing into the unknown, pushing your boundaries, and exploring new horizons?
Most are comfortable within our sphere, we like our routines and prefer to remain within them. We walk the same routes, we shop at the same stores, we fraternise with the same friends, and return to the same vacation spots. Then you might be one of those who likes to expand your envelope and discover new things. You don’t always like what you try, but you learn what you like and what you don’t. Going through life clinging stubbornly to our little circle, leaves us ignorant of what exists in the great expanse beyond.
How can you meet new friends if you are too timid to introduce yourself? How can you discover new foods if you always order the same dish in the same restaurant? How can you learn new ideas if you always discuss things with the same people, and read the same newspapers? How can you catch new fish, if you keep fishing in the same pool? To grow, you must expand your envelope.
I am not only talking about expanding your envelope in the social, culinary, and academic spheres. I am also talking about expanding your envelope in the spiritual sphere. Jacob lived in his parents’ home where life was familiar to him. He was surrounded by piety, honesty, and devout practice. He studied Torah with his father and learned at the feet of his grandfather. He had to contend with his wicked brother Esau, but other than that one exception, he was surrounded by holiness.
Yet, at the age of sixty-three, events conspired to make Jacob leave his place of comfort and tread an unknown path. He struck out for the home of his uncle Laban, a man of insatiable appetite and unbridled mischief. This was not a comfortable environment for Jacob, yet he plunged forward. He was willing to explore new horizons, he was willing to expand his envelope. He did not go to Laban to learn how to be devious, he went to learn how to be pious and honest even in a lair of dishonesty and impiety.
In his parents’ home, Jacob had already maximized his spiritual potential. It was now time to explore new horizons, to expand his spiritual envelope, and take the next step. It was indeed uncomfortable, and he was anxious, yet, Jacob declared that if G-d would go with him, he would have nothing to fear.
The same is true for you and I. Expanding your envelope takes you our of your comfort zone. It ushers you into an emotional state of anxiety and stress. There is the fear of the unknown and the concern about how it will end. Will the stranger you are reaching out to be receptive? Will the new synagogue that you attend, be inviting? Will the New Mitzvah you want to practice, be fulfilling? When you seek to expand your envelope, these questions plague you and yet they are the price of admission. If you don’t volunteer for the stress of not knowing, you will remain confined within your comfort zone. You will fail to expand your envelope.
As went Jacob, so go you. Just as G-d went with Jacob and remained with him every step of the way, so does G-d accompany you on your journey of exploration and stand with you every step of the way. If you step out of your spiritual comfort zone because you seek to expand your spiritual envelope, or to expand the envelope of another, G-d champions and celebrates your cause. He lends a hand.
If you invite a Jew, who does not usually practice Shabbat, into your home for Shabbat you might feel a little awkward at first, but G-d stands with you as you expand your envelope. If you invite your boss or work colleague to study Torah with you, you might feel anxious at first, but take comfort in the knowledge that G-d is studying with you. He is holding your hand as you expand your envelope. You might not be accustomed to teaching, or reaching out, or experimenting with a new Mitzvah, but the knowledge that G-d is with you can strengthen you.
Touch A Heart
In every city there are gathering places for elderly people. After retirement, people like to meet for coffee in the morning or for bridge in the afternoon, etc. This might be a coffee shop, a mall, a restaurant, a park. Ask around, and you will surely discover the local gathering places. I encourage you to visit this place and look around. You are likely to find at least one elderly person sitting alone and looking a little sad. This person has no one to talk to because his or her spouse of many years has passed away. This person is alone and despondent, and usually undesirous of companionship.
Reaching out to this person requires courage, because you are likely to be rejected. However, if you reach out with persistence, you are likely to find a receptive ear and a grateful heart. It takes time and nurturing patience to get through to a broken and bitter heart, but once you get through, there is no limit to how meaningful this relationship might become.
This is a prime example of expanding your envelope. Find a person who needs your companionship and become his or her friend. It might be a loner at work or a quiet person at the pub. It might be a homeless person on the street or a classmate at school. If you reach out to them, your overtures are likely to be rejected. Your initiative will take you way out of your comfort zone and will induce stress and anxiety. Yet, G-d is rooting for you. G-d wants you to take on this Mitzvah. G-d will stand with you and support you when your overture is rejected. G-d will stand with you as you gather the courage to try again the next morning. And G-d will rejoice with you when you crack through the crusted veneer and touch the desperate and lonely heart within.
I have one more suggestion for expanding your horizon and this one is sure to make you squirm. I am talking about giving serious consideration to leaving money in your will to a charitable cause. This initiative is stress inducing because it forces you to confront your own mortality. Who wants to consider their own death? Yet, the time comes for each of us, and the decisions you make today, will stand you in good stead tomorrow.
If you have a favorite charity or institution, or synagogue that you like to support, ask yourself if it is worthy enough to survive you. If you gained much from this charity, is it not reasonable to suppose that others will gain from it too? If that is the case, it behooves you to expand your envelope of philanthropy and donate to your pet cause posthumously. Take steps today to ensure that your money is used for a Mitzvah after your passing.
This is an uncomfortable conversation to have with your lawyer or spouse. It is an uncomfortable thought to consider. Yet, remember that as you consider it, G-d sits with you and holds your hand. Jewish tradition has long held that by writing a will and including a charitable cause in it, we merit to live a long and fruitful life.
It is not enjoyable to consider your mortality, but if you do so, you will expand your spiritual envelope. And along with expanding your envelope, you can also expand your lifespan.