By: Rabbi Mendy Wolf
How do you measure growth?
Obviously, it depends on what you’re talking about: The physical development of a child? The economy? Professional achievement? For all of these, there are statistics, charts and standards, milestones to be counted and numbers to show.
But what about personal growth? Which barometer keeps track of advancement in one’s own life? Is progress measured in milestones or every little step? Is it calculated in relation to others or to one’s potential?
Jewish thought offers a surprisingly simple test: Are you within your comfort zone, or have you left it?
We each have personal tastes, preferences and habits. We feel comfortable around certain types of people and gravitate toward particular activities and jobs. We even have our comfort levels in the areas of spirituality and mitzvah observance. On the one hand, these parameters make us feel secure and stable; at the same time, they imprison us. How many achievements are left out of reach because “It’s not my style”? How often do we turn down the opportunity to broaden our horizons and overcome limiting habits or fears because we are comfortable with where we are?
In this week’s Parsha, we read about the Jews’ 42 journeys out of Egypt. That’s journeys, plural. Of course, there was, physically, only one actual exodus from the borders of Egypt. Yet the subsequent travels – from stop to stop, along the way to the Land of Israel – were each indicative of a new stage in leaving the land of their slavery. Every time they pushed themselves to abandon their previous “rest area”, they declared, in essence, that what was yesterday’s destination had become today’s Egypt. They had become comfortable; it was time to break free and move forward.
Growth, then, is a decision to free ourselves of previous inhibitions, emerge from our comfort zones and do something a little bit challenging. It is not about how big the step is; it is about whether or not a step is taken.
We may not be able to graph this kind of development on a chart, but after all, the results are not for others; they are for ourselves.
Rabbi Mendy Wolf is the educational director for the Institute of American & Talmudic Law, and the director for Project Life, an organization which promotes Jewish values throughout the business community in NYC. R’ Mendy is a sought after teacher and lecturer and resides in Brooklyn, NY with his wife and family. Contact Rabbi Mendy to book him to speak or with feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.