In the 1970s we discovered Edward de Bono and his concept of lateral thinking. We’ve all heard the expression “to think outside the box”, to get outside of our current frame of reference and try to see things in a new light. Most of my adult life I’ve been involved in working with teams to brainstorm, to encourage creativity and develop problem-solving skills. A major part of succeeding in all these activities is literally escaping the consensus, the beaten path and discovering new approaches to the questions at hand.
It struck me last week while listening to the Torah reading in the synagogue, just how ancient the concept of getting Outside the Box in order to start something new really is. In the parsha of Lech Lecha Abraham is commanded to leave his country, to leave his land and to leave his father’s house, all in order to go to a land that G-d will show him.
Think about it for a moment. If you were tasked to reveal a new paradigm, a whole new way of perceiving reality, wouldn’t you need to break away from the constructs, the mental frameworks that everyone around you lives their life according to? You certainly can’t understand and articulate monotheism when you’re still in midst of a pagan society which holds diametrically opposed ideals! In short, you have to leave town. Achieving that freedom from outside influences, being able to put everything you know into perspective, requires distance.
The Midrash talks about Terach’s reason for taking Abraham away from Haran as due to an external threat. The fear was that Abraham would suffer from the persecution that befalls the iconoclast or the introducer to new paradigms of perceiving the world, like Galileo or Copernicus. That is also a good reason to leave town. I’m talking about another motivation to disconnecting from the land, society, and culture into which Abraham was born and raised. The inner struggle to free oneself, of liberating the mind, to explore new ways of seeing the existing reality around you.
I’d go so far as to suggest that every convert to Judaism, every Baal Teshuvah experiences in some small way this same “getting outside the box” in order to make their decision to leave the culture and beliefs of their families and adopt a new, radically different understanding of life and how it should be lived. I’d question if we don’t all need to occasionally get some perspective in order to clarify our beliefs and direction in life. For me at least, Lech Lecha is a lifelong journey of following in the footsteps of Abraham – I’m a convert to Judaism.