When I was in college, if you had suggested — as many did — that I go to law school, I would have told you that I was soon to be done with academics.
Several years later, when I was the news editor of this publication, I was told by the then-executive editor that I could go as far in this industry as I wanted, even one day succeeding him on the masthead of the Jewish Exponent. Six months later, I stunned both my friends from college and the mentor who gave me my first post-university job when my wife and I — with three kids in tow — left Philadelphia and the Exponent to establish a new life in Israel.
Life has a funny way of coming full circle.
Just nine years after making aliyah, I was back in my native Philly to lead the Exponent as its editor-in-chief. Four years after that, I am leaving the Exponent yet again … to practice law. (I will graduate from Temple University’s Beasley School of Law in May, and sit for the bar exam in July.)
I’ve always told my children, who now number 10, that far from being something to fear, change is something that should be embraced — even to the point of seeking it out when necessary. Since my wife and I got married as students at the University of Pennsylvania, we’ve moved six times, calling University City, Bala Cynwyd, Beit Shemesh, Florida, Baltimore and Overbrook Farms home. And even as I embark on a new career as an attorney — having previously spent more than two decades as a journalist and several years as a commercial pilot and flight instructor — my wife is pursuing her doctorate in psychology.
Each step of the way, the twists and turns of our path around the North Atlantic have seen our family grow, the challenges quickly giving way to opportunities, thereby producing more challenges and continuing the cycle of life. I can only hope our children, for whom resilience isn’t so much a notion as it is an animating principle, have been as blessed by us and our journey as we are by them and their energetic spirit.
But while opportunity offers the promise of a better tomorrow, change is often bittersweet. Two years ago, I dedicated this column to my son Sefi’s Bar Mitzvah. I had dreamed of being able to do that for my son Mendel’s this June, but as so frequently happens, the Almighty had other plans.
So I shall use what little space I have left here to speak directly to my son, whose Torah portion is the meaty section known as Shelach. In that parshah, Moses sends spies to the land of Israel to scope out its breadth, the quality of its produce and the strength of its inhabitants before the Jewish people, on the precipice of their conquering it, cross into it.
Unpredictably, a majority of the spies give a factually accurate but improper report, foolishly concluding that the same people who had been delivered from Egypt would not be able to settle the Holy Land. Those who heard the report were whipped into such a frenzy that they refused to go; their punishment was to die in the desert, leaving their children to inherit the land of milk and honey.
What were the people, who witnessed with their own eyes the miracles of the plagues and the splitting of the sea, afraid of? One explanation is that given the choice between divine revelation in the desert and the demands of physical toil in the agricultural society planned in the land of Israel, they preferred effortlessly receiving their spirituality rather than working for it.
To be sure, it was a rational choice, but according to the Torah, it was a completely wrong one.
Too often in life, the promise of comfort confounds us; we tend to confuse the reality of what we have for the reality of what can be. A person should always be happy with what he has, of course, but he should also not be afraid to embrace the potential for change.
Change is not a good in and of itself, though. And it needn’t — some might say shouldn’t — be radical. For the generation in the desert, settling the land was a categorical shift in their experience. But for the person who is used to reviewing a piece of knowledge 100 times, the 101st time is a completely new reality. Sometimes, moderation is radical enough, and so in a world bounded by two extremes, be a radical moderate.
As you go through life, you will be faced with choices. Always know that the changes you are presented with are not the entire realm of available paths. Moving ever so slightly to the left or to the right, moderate though it is, might just be the change necessary to open the door to a new opportunity.
And when that opportunity comes, don’t be like the spies. Seize it with the knowledge that Divine Providence has placed it there.
If it doesn’t work out — or even if it does — there’s always law school.
Joshua Runyan has been the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent for the past four years. He has loved every minute of it, and wishes the incoming editor, Liz Spikol, the best of luck.