Friday, 22 October, 2021 - 1:42 pm

An older man had serious hearing problems for many years. He went to the doctor and the doctor was able to have him fitted for a set of hearing aids that allowed the man to hear 100%.

The old man went back in a month to the doctor and the doctor said, “Your hearing is perfect. Your family must be really pleased that you can hear again.”

The man replied, “Oh, I haven’t told my family yet. I just sit around and listen to their conversations. I’ve changed my will three times!”

In this week’s portion, Vayera, Abraham’s remarkable story continues. And—at last—at the age of 100, he is blessed with a son, Isaac. As his wife, Sarah declares: “Whoever hears this story, will rejoice with me!” Abraham celebrates it with a massive feast, attended by the greatest men of the time.

The Torah sums up the story: “He built a hotel in Beer Sheva; and he called out in the name of G-d, the master of the world.”

At last, all the pieces have fallen into place. Abraham and his faith prevailed. He has been blessed with his own child; he has amassed great wealth and prosperity. Most importantly: He is beginning to change the world, to introduce into a Pagan society a new ethic—one of love, compassion, morality, justice, responsibility, and respect for truth and for others.

And then—suddenly, unexpected comes the ultimate curveball. G-d says to Abraham:

Take your son, your only one, whom you love, yea, Isaac…, bring him up there for a burnt offering on the mountain.

W-H-A-T???! We all want to shout as we read these words, as we would have expected Abraham to shout. You’re kidding me? Is this a bad dream, a surreal joke, or what?

Where did this instruction suddenly come from? It is so out of character of Your promises to me and my work for You. There was a plan unfolding here: I will become your ambassador; you will guarantee my future. You promised me, I will have a son. What is this sudden command to go and kill him?

Yet Abraham does not panic. He wakes up in the morning, sets out on the quest for the site. The serenity in which the Torah tells the story can drive you mad.

Abraham arrives at the destination. He builds an altar and prepares for the sacrifice. Abraham binds Isaac on the altar and picks up the sacrificial knife. Just as Abraham is about to offer his son as a burnt offering, an angel calls out to him and says:

"Do not stretch forth your hand to the lad, nor do the slightest thing to him, for now, I know that you are a G-d fearing man, and you did not withhold your son, your only one, from Me."

What is this all about? G-d, you did not know that Abraham was a G-d fearing man till now? 137 years of commitment did not suffice? What’s the point of this entire episode?

And that exactly was the point.

It was at this point that Abraham—and Isaac—emerged in their full Jewishness. G-d did not want Abraham to sacrifice his son—as we can see from the end of the story. Rather, G-d wanted Abraham, and Isaac, to have the courage to reinvent themselves.

Let talk for a moment About our own lives.

As you look back at your life, you can close your eyes, smile, and experience a moment of serenity. You did well for yourself. Yes, it took sweat, blood and years, but hay, you prevailed.

And you did not only take care of yourself. You have become an outstanding member of the community—an activist, a leader, a giver; you are looked up to. You are charitable, kind, and caring.

It seems like all the pieces are in place. It is high time for a little serenity, relaxation, and pleasure. You deserve it.

And then… and then… as everything seems to be coming together, life sometimes throws you a curveball, that sweeps you off your legs, rattles your foundations, and sends you weeping into a future that seems so scary and unpredictable.

You never signed up for this deal! And you, the wise businessman, did not see it coming.

There comes a moment in your life when you are stripped naked. Your entire vulnerability is exposed. You find yourself weeping like an infant.

This is the moment when Abraham truly became a Jew.

He did not panic. He did not fall apart. He did not give up. He did not run away. He said: It is time to start all over, anew.

I know nothing. I made all the wrong assumptions. I will not hold on to anything of my past. I am ready to begin, all over again, from scratch. My entire world disintegrated. I am ready to begin a new journey. I know it is insanely painful.

These are the moment when life challenges us to reinvent ourselves completely—to shatter all of our comfort zones, all of our illusionary safety nets, and ideals that carried us.

When you stay the course, with vulnerability, faith, and complete openness—you become a new person. From now on, your love is infinite; your wisdom is infinite; your integrity is infinite, and your dedication is infinite—for you have graduated from the human-ego game and you have transformed yourself into a channel for Divine infinity.

Yankel was a simple Jew who loved the mitzvah of lulav and etrog, which he performed enthusiastically every Sukkot. He would spend hours painstakingly picking out the nicest etrog. One year, there was early winter and it was difficult for the etrog salespeople to get their regular inventory, so there was a shortage and prices went up. Yankel was shocked when he heard that an etrog now cost 5000 rubles. He went home saddened and told his wife the news. It was the day before Sukkot, and only one expensive esrog was left.

In Judaism, there is a concept called “mitzvah of the moment,” meaning that the mitzvah at hand now is supreme. So Yankel decided that for this holiday, the mitzvah of lulav and etrog was most important. “Why don’t I sell my tefillin, take the money I get from it and buy the etrog? I won’t need the tefillin until after Sukkot. How I buy them back, well, I’ll figure it out later.”

So he sold his tefillin for 5000 rubles and bought the etrog. He came home all excited, and, finding that his wife was not yet home, he carefully put the etrog down in the kitchen and went to take a nap. An hour later, he awoke to find that his wife had returned. Excitedly he called out, “Guess what I bought?! An etrog!” “How?” she asked. “I sold my tefillin.”

“How could you do such a thing?” she asked. He explained the mitzvah of the moment. “Nu, let me see it,” she said. “It’s right here,” he replied, “I put it down right here on the kitchen counter.”

“Oy vey!” she shouted, “I came home and made a salad. I needed lemon and saw what I thought was a lemon on the counter, I squeezed it out into the salad!”

Cringing, Yankel’s wife expected a scream, an outcry. Instead, Yankel ran toward her, hugged her, and started dancing. “Why, Yankele?” she asked.

“Because right now, my dear wife, the mitzvah of the moment is to love my wife and control my anger.”

This was Yankel’s moment. He loved his Etrog. This was his world; it meant everything to him. He sold his tefillin and paid 5000 rubel for it. Now it was gone.

But instead of screaming at his wife, or dashing out of the house in fury, or sinking into a depression, or numbing his pain with a bottle of Blue Label, he held onto G-d—a G-d that has no image, no structure, no pattern, no defined persona, a G-d that does not have to look a certain way to be G-d. As his world crumbled, he opened himself up to the truth of the moment, to the Divine calling of the moment, to the opportunity of the moment. He did not remain stuck in his perception of what life is supposed to look like, what Judaism is supposed to look like, what Sukkot is supposed to look like. He was completely flexible to the Divine flow of that moment.

This was the story of Abraham. After all, seemed complete, Abraham is told it is time for him to return his gift, his child, back to the giver. Abraham had no way of “figuring” this one out. He was dumbstruck. He was uncertain. He was in complete darkness. Why? How? What? For what purpose? He realized that he knows nothing. He held on to G-d and said: Hinani! I am here.

At that moment he became the ultimate Jew, the ultimate man of G-d.

“Now I know that you are a G-d fearing person,” the angel tells him after this narrative. We always knew that he was completely dedicated to G-d. But it is now that Abraham became one with the Divine—there was no I left; only an ambassador of G-d in this world.

Paradoxically, now his love for Isaac would become far deeper. Before this, it was the natural finite love of a father to a son. Now the love was flowing from the infinite source of reality.      

There was once a rich man who invited a lot of his friends to his house for a big party. At the party, he took his friends to the backyard where there was a swimming pool. The swimming pool was filled with a few man-eating sharks.

The rich man announced that if someone would swim from one end of the pool to the other end, the rich man would give that man 2 Million Dollars. Thirty seconds passed. Forty-five seconds passed. Finally, a minute later, there was a splash, and a man was frantically swimming for his life from one end of the pool to the other end trying to avoid the sharks. Somehow, the man-made it to the other end of the pool.

When he got out of the pool, the rich man congratulated him and said, “As I promised, I will give you the 2 Million. The man, who was breathing heavily, said, “I want to know the name of the guy who pushed me in the pool!”

In our lives, it is G-d who pushes us into the pool. G-d creates challenges for us that may at first seem insurmountable. We find ourselves in situations that seem unmanageable, unfair and make us wish we could just bury our heads in the sand.  But when we are pushed in, forced to step up to the task, so often we find that we are capable of more than we realized. And only then do we see our own potential. We are summoned to recreate ourselves!

Don't ever empty the bucket of mystery. Never let people define what you do. It's not about zigging when you should zag. It's not about doing something unprecedented and unpredictable. It's just about never closing yourself up to the process of transformation, where your “I” becomes a complete conduit for the Divine “I.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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