Are You a Head Above the Rest?
Unlike giraffes, we live in a generation where no one will stick their neck out for you. Egocentrism, instead, is the short-necked beast of this age which pivots 360° always looking out for itself. The mantric words, “It’s all about me” have successfully drowned out the needs and cries of others and muted the voice of God. Whereas once pagans killed people to worship gods, today we’ve killed God to worship people--OURSELVES. Watch Aliza's YouTube on Vayeira
By deductive reasoning, if I am better and more important than you, then my problems and distresses are more important than yours. But that is not the world God wanted. In fact, the Talmud teaches that before we petition God for our own needs and wants, we must first pray for another. As we see in this week’s parashah Vayeira, G-d granted Sarah a son after Abraham prayed for Avimelech to be blessed with children.
There is no person more empty than an egoist, for God cannot reside inside a full-of-himself arrogant person, and so He vacates the premises. To improve ourselves and all humanity, we must get ourselves out of our own way. You want to throw something on the sacrificial altar to get results (other than scapegoats, i.e., your mother, your partner, your cousin, your sister, etc.), start with the words, “me,” “myself” and I.
By further deduction we must recognize how very far away we are from God and truth by looking to Moses as the paradigm of behavior. It was because he was the most humble person to walk the earth that he was worthy to be God’s unique messenger: “ And there was no other prophet who arose in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face….” Thus, if God was so close to Moses due to his humility and self-effacing behavior, imagine how bad we look in God's eyes because of our selfishness. We are polar opposites. Selfishness is an antithesis to the five senses with which God created and blessed man, for it has no eyes for the suffering of its sister, has no ears for the cries of its brother, it smells not its own stench, it has no parched tongue to know another’s thirst and it has no heart to feel or hand to touch another in comfort.
It is little wonder then that the world in which we find ourselves is falling apart due to its fragmented nature wherein each person thinks the world revolves around them instead of realizing that the whole world depends upon them. There is an apropos rabbinic allegory about heaven and hell. “In each location, the inhabitants are sitting at a long table but the utensils are too unwieldy to serve oneself. In hell, the people keep trying to stuff their own faces but can’t get the food into their mouths and so they starve. In heaven, the people help each other and feed one another across the table and are sated.”
In this week’s Torah reading, Vayeira, we read about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, societies where people cared only for themselves and were heartless and callous towards others. Being charitable was a crime. Their profound egotism and lust for easy gratification led, as it always will, to self-destruction. As the Talmud says, “He who is affected by a voracious hunger finally eats his own flesh.” Yes, man is made of earth which is the most selfish of creations as it is surrounded by a gravitational field that pulls everything toward itself. Yet even the earth is not so selfish that it begrudges the flower and the tree to grow upward and the seedlings to sprout. In the final analysis, the earth gives much more than it takes. Do we?
In the center of the biblical account of Sodom and Gomorrah stands the Patriarch Abraham, who asks God to spare the city if even fifty righteous people could be found. God said he would. Abraham slowly tweaks the number down to ten in case fifty could not be found. God consents. Not even ten could be found. But we learn here not only about the failings of Sodom and Gomorrah, but also about Abraham’s, and Noah’s too. When God told Noah he was going to destroy humanity, Noah didn’t say a peep, he just built an Ark. When God told Abraham he would destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham’s best was to suggest that God should spare the righteous. But, when God told Moses that he was going to wipe out Israel because of the sin of the Golden Calf, Moses said, “Please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”
It is said that in the Messianic Age everyone will be beset by intractable problems. As today’s crises escalate personally and globally, we too cannot merely ask, “Will it be okay for me?” We ARE our brother’s keepers. Like those in the allegory, we too each have a long spoon in our hand with which we can “serve” another and the other can serve us. On our own initiative let’s grow “longer arms” to give each other a helping hand and not by contradistinction pickpocket each other of our dignity and humanity by our mere self-absorption. If only ten righteous people could have been found, Sodom and Gomorrah would not have been destroyed. The question to ourselves is, “Would we count among them?”
(By the way, giraffes are kosher animals but we have lost the knowledge on how to slaughter them properly. So be a giraffe. Stick your neck out for someone else and be a head above the rest!) Shabbat Shalom