The one thing that virtually all Neve girls have in common is that they know how to break out of the old mold that may have been normal for at least a good portion of their lives. The fact that they actually got on a plane, came to Neve, and left a changed person tells it all. If you were to look at the instructions that appear on the back of many containers, a phrase appears that, at least to me, tells their story.
The phrase is "linaer haitev". Its meaning is "shake well", a phrase that appears on many American products as well. The root of the verb linaer, is naar, which means a youth. Arguably, one of the most striking characteristics of youth is change. As you probably have noticed, there are people in their early twenties who are no longer young. They are set into the rigidity of the American Dream with super-glue. There are, conversely, people who are biologically old, but who are always in the process of discovery.
One (but by far not the only) reason that people stop moving is that they have no idea of what is possible. From the time that they began to watch/read/listen to the world, the message was always the same. You're here on your own to make it or break it. Enjoy the ride. Don't think too much or too deeply. Escape as much as you can. Watch. Text. Listen. Watch more. Don't let yourself be alone without at least one other voice to drown out your own inner voice. The media (and contemporary literature and art) are not anti-G-d. That would require them to engage with ideas and concepts that rock the boat (and in any case seem irrelevant). Seeking G-d and searching for meaning puts you in the linaer mode. Read. Think. Do. Give. Part of the fear of movement in today's world is the fear of isolation. Moving forward when everyone else isn't, can be excruciatingly lonely. It seems to me that this is one of the hardest tests that you face when you return to the States or to anywhere else that English is spoken.
In the past Parshah, Lech Lecha, you have examples of people who could have chosen to challenge themselves to grow by placing themselves in the company of people who are more than a step ahead of them. When you meet someone who has moved beyond your comfort level, you can make two responses. One is feeling threatened enough to do whatever you can to make that person too small for his/her role as your example and source of support. Another is becoming vulnerable enough to actually learn from someone who is neither your double, nor necessarily charismatic enough to make you feel that you are in the fast lane. When you read the narrative of Lot and Avrahahm you find Lot willing to live anywhere except with his illustrious tzadik of an uncle. Being with Avraham made him feel like a spiritual midget. It made him feel vulnerable because he thought that the comparison between uncle and nephew would leave him permanently number two. The traits that he developed, and that were passed on generationally via his daughters, are taavah and chemda, desire and envy. The smaller you think you are, the harder it is to fill the void. The other figure who rejected the linaer model was Hagar. She started out with enormous credibility as a woman who could outgrow herself. She left life as an Egyptian princess (at her father, Pharaoh's request) and re-created herself as Sarah's co-wife, brought into the family to have a child who Sarah and Avraham could raise. So far so good. The problems arose when she had to face the fact that she would never be Sarah. She ran away to escape the reality of Sarah's being her mistress. For both Lot and Sarah the result was tragic. They both ended up frozen in limitations that at least at first felt good.
How do you see that you don't end up being old before your time? If you are biologically not very young, how can you be sure that your inner life is still moving with the same enthusiasm that you once felt? How do you stay in the linaer mode?
One of the surest ways to stay alive is to be sure that you find a mentor who is more than what you are, and who may be on a level that you may never reach.
Some of you know Risa Rotman. Her husband, Chaim, for whom many of you davened this past year since he was wounded in the terror attack on the Bnei Torah shul in Har Nof. He was always growing. When he learned in Ohr Sameach his "hobby" was assisting Rav Meir Schuster in his never ending Kiruv. Later when he married and worked in a government office, he saw his role as becoming the equivalent of the mezuzah on the door, in charge of bringing Torah to the workplace. His fellow workers were so inspired, that during the close to a year that he was in a coma, they came on Tuesdays to the hospital to be with them, the religious ones and the ones who only knew Chaim as representing everything that religion is meant to mean. He attended Rav Rubin's shiurim and stood the entire time. He was afraid that after a long day at work, if he sat comfortably, he would drowse off...
He was one of the most awake people I have ever known, may his memory be a blessing and an inspiration.