Go To Yourself, For Yourself
Updated: Mar 22
What does a Jamaican man and a Jewish American girl have in common? In this case, more than you would think.
Yoseph Robinson moved from Jamaica to Brooklyn at the age of 12. By 19, he was a high-school dropout and drug dealer living on the streets. After he was almost killed at age 19 over a betrayal by one of his partners in crime, he left behind his life of drugs and crime and moved to Los Angeles, where he succeeded as a Hip Hop recording executive. But Yoseph quickly became jaded by his new materialistic and shallow lifestyle. Searching for something deeper to connect to, he stumbled into Judaism. Yoseph converted to become an Orthodox Jew, married, had children, and moved back to Brooklyn. About six years ago, when he was 34, he was tragically shot in the store where he worked, leaving behind his wife and four children.
The details of my journey are very different, but the essence is the same. I also found myself in a place where I seemingly had everything I count want and asked myself: Is this all there is? I, too, became jaded with a superficial life of partying and materialism, began looking for something deeper to connect to, and stumbled into Judaism. (Though I was born Jewish, the Judaism I grew up with is radically different from the Torah Judaism I live today.)
Both Yoseph and I heard the call of “Lech Lecha,” and answered it.
In the Torah, G-d tells Abraham, “Lech Lecha—Go for yourself, from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you.”
Why does Abraham have to leave his land, his birthplace, and his father’s house for himself?
Rashi, the authoritative commentator on the Torah, explains that when G-d told Abraham “Lech Lecha,” G-d meant that Abraham should go to the place that G-d will show him, which will be for his pleasure and for his benefit. The Lubavticher Rebbe explains that “Lech Lecha” can also mean “go to yourself,” meaning to return to your true identity as a Jew.
To return to his true self, Abraham had to leave behind the things holding him back. His land, says the Rebbe, represented worldliness and physical desires. Abraham was very wealthy when G-d called on him to move to Cana’an; Abraham needed to be willing to abandon his wealth to travel to G-d’s land, which symbolizes entering a spiritual journey of learning G-d’s wisdom—G-d’s “supernal land.”
Though I am nowhere near the spiritual greatness of Abraham, my journey brought me to Israel, where I lived for months at a time in a standard of living lower than I was used to because that’s what I needed to absorb the wisdom of the Torah without distractions. (Some of my happiest memories are from my time in Israel—I discovered that we really don’t need as much as we think we do.)
Abraham also needed to leave his birthplace and his father’s house, meaning he had to shed the perceptions and behaviors he absorbed growing up in his community and in his home that were not conducive to fulfilling his life’s purpose.
In my Intro to Judaism classes in Israel, the teachers would present a Torah idea and we were encouraged to challenge it. My classmates and I asked question after question, and sometimes our debates got heated. Yet once I had time to process the new information, I realized that the Torah teaching was, in fact, true on a real, spiritual level. I had felt threatened by it because of certain assumptions I had about life and society based on my upbringing in an upper middle class American suburb. Not everything I learned growing up was wrong, but I needed to be willing to challenge my original mode of thinking to move forward on an intellectually and emotionally honest spiritual path.
Yoseph and I both tapped into our spiritual DNA and followed our patriarch Abraham when he answered G-d: “Hineni,” here I am. In this way, it was not G-d who chose the Jewish people; it is the Jewish people who chose G-d. Instead of being “the Chosen People,” Rabbi Gavriel Mandel explains, “Abraham’s descendants… would be more aptly referred to as the ‘Choosing People.’ G-d took an interest in Abraham and selected him for the mission because Abraham committed himself to Him—not the other way around, as some mistakenly believe.”
A willingness to shed false assumptions and bad behaviors in order to be your best self is what “Lech Lecha” means. I cannot speak for Yoseph, but if you watch his video, where he introduces himself and speaks about his journey, you will see how happy and peaceful he seems after returning to his spiritual home. I feel the same way now. I have given up some things, but I have gained far more. It is my hope that when you read something new, you will allow yourself to grapple with it in an honest way. Above all, I hope that in reading my articles you will feel that you are coming closer to your best, truest self—the person G-d created you to be.
Book Suggestions: Judaism Unraveled: Answers to the Most Challenging Questions about Judaism by Rabbi Gavriel Mandel
Web Suggestions: Read more about Yoseph Robinson’s incredible life story here.
 Chumash, the Sapirstein Edition, Parsha Lech Lecha, p. 116
 Chumash, the Gutnick Edition, Parsha Lech Lecha, p. 67 p. 67. (Based on Likutei Sichos, vol. 2, p. 659)
 Rabbi Gavriel Mandel, Judaism Unraveled: Answers to the Most Challenging Questions about Judaism, p.146