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Take your baggage with you

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Spending much of my time with elderly people as I do comes with the perk of learning invaluable life lessons from those with decades of experience.

This week’s parsha speaks of our first patriarch and matriarch in their stage of life as pensioners. “Abraham and Sarah were old, coming on in days,” the Torah says in Genesis 18:11. Why the redundancy of saying “old” and “coming on in days”?

According to the Zohar, they came with their days, as each day of their life was virtuous.

Yet, how can this be if the earlier years of their life were consumed with idolatry before they acknowledged the monotheistic belief in G-d for which they are now famous?

In spite of being born and raised with pagan beliefs as was common then, their past challenges were actually part of their spiritual journey. Truth-seekers often make mistakes along the way before discovering the light they seek.

Abraham and Sarah came to G-d via other routes, because without it, they couldn’t have discovered monotheism. So even their “bad days” were good, for all of their solecism can be seen as part of the learning process.

Do you ever feel stuck in a cycle of mishap, or embarrassed by past mistakes?

Again and again in conversation with seniors, I find myself asking about their life accomplishments and asking the question: what’s the secret to your success?

The array of achievements quoted run the gamut of self-development, relationships, family life, community involvement, career, and so much more. And repeatedly, the secret is to learn every step along the way, via the steps that are clearly oriented toward the goal, and even (sometimes more so) the steps that seem to be a deviation or detour from the projected outcome.

Take your experiences with you. Grow with them, not in spite of them.

Often, the consternation about our shortcomings and poor decisions can be more upsetting than material challenges and hardships. Sometimes, our negative thoughts can leave us feeling defeated.

Let’s take a cue from our ancestors. Their journey to recognising G-d was circuitous, laden with personal dilemmas, and experimentation. Maimonides notes that they explored and wondered until they truly understood.

We may have deficiencies, but remember that failure isn’t getting knocked down, failure is staying down. We, too, must reframe our challenges into joy-inspiring opportunities as they “came with their days” – all of their days.

It’s never too late to learn. We’re never too old to grow and explore. The Torah is a book of eternal truth, and we can tap into its messages and wisdom at every stage along the journey of personal growth.

As thousands of Jews the world over will be making an extra effort to keep Shabbos this week, we can glean an important life-lesson. Perhaps here’s another explanation for why, toward the end of Lecha Dodi, we turn around as we welcome Shabbos. We look back at our past week’s journey along which we arrived at our present destination.

Don’t leave your baggage unattended. Take it with you, and make it serve you.

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