William Hamilton

Stay in your lane

Rabbi Akiba was asked two thousand years ago whether he feared the Romans. After all, they had decreed that Jews were not allowed to engage with Torah. He responded with a parable. 

A fox once went along a river. He saw fish darting back and forth. The fox asked the fish, “What are you afraid of?” “The nets people cast to catch us,” they replied. The fox suggested, “Perhaps you should come onto land and dwell with me as our ancestors once lived together.” The fish waved him off. “We thought you were cleverest among the animals. If we’re afraid in a place where we live and thrive, how would we manage in a setting where we can’t survive?” Akiba concluded,“The same is true for us with Torah. How much more difficult would our lives be without it?”

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was, “Stay in your lane.” That is, stay focused. Don’t try to overreach or spread yourself too thin.

If you’re like me, then drifting comes naturally. Online-life collars and drags us where we have no business being. Sometimes, we do the swerving on our own. How can you tell when you’ve swerved too much? Perhaps find yourself rattling around inside. Running on fumes. In quicksand. 

Judaism has a reassuring lesson: an onramp back into your lane is always just ahead. 

We all know the hero-story. The hero grows up among the peasants to later discover that he is a prince. Because of his upbringing, he rules with compassion and everyone lives happily ever after. The Torah inverts this story. Moses grows up in the palace, to discover that he belongs among the slaves. 

A fellow learner from our community recently made a brilliant observation. Something similar happened with Rabbi Akiba. He came to Torah late in life. His parents converted to Judaism and, until he was age forty, he’d never learned the Hebrew alphabet. This week’s portion of Torah finds Moses teaching more laws than any other. And Akiba’s interpretations enliven the pulse of every detail. 

Swimming with the current doesn’t always mean going with the flow. Actually, for our people, it rarely does. It means sticking with our strengths, with our home field advantage. 

May your onramp back into your lane, pour new life into your kindnesses and fresh firmness into your priorities. 

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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