Sunday, September 29, 2013

From Potential to Actuality

A few months ago, I lost my mailbox key. I put off requesting a new one from the apartment management office out of fear that I'd be charged an unreasonable fee (and any fee is unreasonable for a grad student). Instead, I opted to temporarily go without my paycheck, magazine subscriptions, and wedding and birthday invitations, hoping I'd magically discover the key poking out of the couch cushions someday.

One afternoon, I happened to be exiting the building as the postal worker was sorting mail into the appropriate boxes. My mailbox door hung open, its bulging contents gleaming like exposed treasure. Most notably was my subscription of Chayenu, a weekly Torah study magazine that I relied on to enliven my 45 minute commute to work. Lately I had felt disconnected and unreflective without Torah study as part of this routine, going through the motions of the daily grind without infusing a fresh spiritual consciousness into it.

This was my chance! With a brash "Excuse me," I impulsively reached past the postal worker for my mail.

She glared at me disapprovingly. "Uh-uh. You can't just take your mail, honey. You need to open your mailbox with your key."

I wasn't in the mood to try to explain myself. With a defeated sigh, I hurried outside to catch my dreaded train to the city.

During my commute, I mentally reviewed the mailbox incident. How did that just happen? Everything I needed was plainly visible, inches away from falling into my possession. But I couldn't have any of it. I needed to open my mailbox myself- with my own key. It wasn't good enough that someone opened it for me.

Until I took initiative to acquire a key- regardless of the financial sacrifice involved- my precious Torah magazines were worthless. They were trapped in a box, powerless and unbreathing. They couldn't affect me.

That's how a lot of Judaism is. We look to others to "open our mailbox." We go to shiurim and try to surround ourselves with positive influences, looking to the wisdom and conviction of our community leaders, schools, and mentors. They open the door to inspiration. But that's all inspiration is: An open door. We're shown what's there- a preview of what could be- and then it's left to us to internalize those teachings and integrate them into our lives.

It's crucial to know what exists in potential. Catching that initial glimpse of our beautiful heritage through another's guidance is what gives us both focus and motivation. But that can't be the end. It's only a beginning. And moving forward requires a lot of effort, and maybe even self-sacrifice. Only you can create real change within yourself.

It took a while, but I eventually got a new key and I didn't even have to pay for it. I emptied my mailbox and sifted through a month's worth of letters. The next day, the postal worker loyally returned with a new series of items addressed to me. Now, I was ready to receive them.

In life, our incoming flow of spiritual inspiration comes with responsibility: We must latch onto it, study its contents, and figure out how it can better the world. Only through our own efforts can we actualize the potential that awaits in our "spiritual mailbox."

1 comment:

  1. im obsessed with you! my favorite part is picturing you mentally reviewing the mailbox incident :-)