It's 11:15 Thursday night. Only one more batch of challah to be kneaded by your wife's dough-covered hands, and two more telephone meetings to go for you. You momentarily sense Shabbat creeping around the corner, and then suddenly the baby cries at the top of his lungs.
It's 11:15 Thursday night. Only one more batch of challah to be kneaded by your wife's dough-covered hands, and two more telephone meetings to go for you. You momentarily sense Shabbat creeping around the corner, and then suddenly the baby cries at the top of his lungs. "Can you go and see what's up?" your wife requests. Like any good parent (and spouse), you investigate the situation only to find that he's lost his blanket which he went to bed with.
"Where's his blanky?" you holler from his bedroom. "It should be there," she answers. You look again: Prognosis negative. "No-luck; where was it last?" you retort. "Somewhere near his bed," comes the reply you expected (after all, you were the one who put him to bed). You probe more carefully. "Nothing doing, Sweetie. Are you sure?" you optimistically inquire. "Of course, didn't you put him to bed?" she answers, almost reading your mind.
Amidst the crying, you hear the water running as it begins to wash the last remnants of an ill-kneaded challah down the drain. "That's right, but I still don't see it," you innocently respond. "Obviously," she calls back, now halfway up the stairs, "or else you wouldn't have had to disturb me. . ." she says to you, now next to the baby's crib, ". . .to get this," she concludes, as she winks in a sinister way and picks up his unmistakable bright yellow blanket from beside his crib.
"Thanks Sweetie," you say with that boyish voice, still in amazement that you didn't see the blanket there in the first place. "Don't mention it," she says as she's leaving the room, "you can make it up by kneading the next batch of challah."
This phenomenon of not perceiving certain elements in our environment is not restricted solely to tangible objects seen (or not seen) with our eyes, as this week's Torah portion illustrates.
The first thing we are told is that Hashem appeared to Abraham (Genesis 18:1). Numerous commentators offer reasons as to why Hashem appeared to Abraham. All seem to share one common element: Abraham deserved this special honor. When one contemplates the omnipotence of G-d, one cannot avoid being awed by the quality of character which one must possess to be deserving of a personal visit by the Almighty Himself.
Of all the incidents that can be used to demonstrate Abraham's worthiness, this week's portion contains an occurrence which, in today's society, we can easily understand how it shows his greatness: Abraham's encounter with the three angels disguised as men.
Abraham is ninety-nine years old, its the third day after his circumcision, and the weather outside has distinguished itself with terribly unbearable heat. The average person faced with a similar predicament would likely kick back, relax, and wait until the pain passes. Abraham, however, "lifted his eyes and saw" (ibid. 18:2). Here, too, the average person would have seen three individuals on a journey, and left it at that. Abraham, however, saw something far more significant - an opportunity. This opportunity consisted of being able to serve Hashem by performing the mitzvah of inviting guests and attending to their needs with the utmost caliber of service.
How often do we let opportunities pass us by? Opportunities to bite our tongues and block our ears, rather than helping spread lashon hara (slander). Opportunities to do acts of chesed (loving kindness) in our communities, and especially within our families. Opportunities to give qualitative tzedakah (charity), in addition to quantitative tzedakah. Opportunities to learn Torah, followed by opportunities to teach Torah. Opportunities to say "I'm sorry" instead of "It's your fault". Essentially, opportunities to serve Hashem through the fulfillment of His commandments with zeal and joy.
Our inability to recognize these opportunities in our life is no different than our inability to perceive tangible things within our scope of vision. To a large degree, it all comes down to where we focus our attention and our senses. Becoming mitzvah-focused opportunists requires constant and never-ending determination to put G-d first in all areas of our lives.
When it came to serving Hashem, Abraham was the proverbial opportunist. His dedication to the service of G-d provides us with an exemplary model for what we should strive for, and what we can expect to receive when we do go that extra mile. For those who may doubt the veracity of such an assertion, a quick look at the words of the sages in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers 2:19) dispels all doubts: ". . .and your Employer [G-d] can be relied upon to pay you the wage of your labor."
In short, to the extent with which we capitalize on opportunities to serve Hashem, we can expect to be rewarded in kind. And who knows - perhaps one day we too may merit a personal visit from the Boss upstairs.
Lawrence Stroll is youth director of Congregation Beth Jacob and executive director of Temima High School for Girls in Atlanta.
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