Modern life is tailored to each individual’s needs and desires, or so it seems anyway. Not sure what you want to buy today? Your trusty shopping app will tell you what it is you must have. Open your favorite music app for recommendations of what you should be listening to. Get recommendations for home viewing just by checking out the home screen of your favorite streaming service. Algorithms and data have made it so that we never need to seek out something new. It is all there laid out for us based on past preferences.
Now, there is something to the recommendations that pop up for us everywhere. The great industrial designer Raymond Loewy put forth his MAYA design philosophy that people want what is Most Advanced Yet Acceptable. In other words, they want new things as long as those things are somewhat recognizable.
But what about discovering things that push beyond our comfort zones? How can we seek out new possibilities when our devices readily tell us what our past preferences will recommend? This week’s parashah (Torah portion), Lech Lecha, offers one possible avenue to finding something new––divine intervention. God calls to Abraham to abandon everything he knows and strike out for an unknown place that God will show him. Except that it does not quite work out like that. Abraham still takes his family and his mobile property with him. Not to take away from Abraham’s courage, but perhaps Abraham is willing (and even able) to make the advanced journey because taking his wife and nephew with him makes the journey acceptable.
For those of us who have not merited to hear a direct message from God, finding something acceptably new is not quite so easy. However, many of us do have an avenue for approaching the world with an openness for expanding our horizons, for seeking out and discovering new things. The young people in our lives are still developing their preferences; they still approach the world with wonder and curiosity. Just as we have the obligation to guide them in their explorations so too we have the opportunity to explore with them. Being open to their ideas and trying out their preferences can help us to fulfill the message of Rabbi Hanina, “I have learned much from my teachers and more from my friends than from my teachers. And from my students more than all of them.”
Rabbi Eric Zaff