Living in a Fishbowl
Imagine yourself out of town on business. You want to work out in the local gym but don’t have a membership and they don’t sell one day passes. You might say, “I’d like to ask for a special favor. I’m not a member but could you be kind enough to let me use the facilities for the day?” However, if you would go to your local gym, where you are a member, you wouldn’t be asking for a special act of benevolence to work out there; you paid your dues and are entitled to use the facilities. It doesn’t make sense to ask for kindness or compassion if one deserves something; people only ask for kindness or compassion when they don’t feel they deserve it. With this in mind, let’s look at the story of Eliezer, the trusted CEO of all of Abraham’s holdings, who was sent on a mission to find a spouse for Isaac, Abraham and Sara’s son. Eliezer prayed for success in this endeavor.
And he said, “G-d of my master Abraham, please cause to happen to me today, and perform kindness for my master, Abraham. (24:12)
By this point, Abraham was well known and wealthy; it is interesting that Eliezer asked for “kindness for my master.” With Abraham’s financial means and influence, it would seem that finding a suitable young woman for Isaac, the ultimate eligible bachelor, would be a no-brainer. As such, why does Eliezer have to ask for kindness for Abraham? Furthermore, Abraham was already famous for having his own kindness credentials. He risked his life to rescue his undeserving nephew Lot, opened a free Bed and Breakfast in Mamre, acted with compassion to king Avimelech, even though the king came scarcely close to abusing Sara. Abraham was the ultimate humanitarian; if there ever was a person in history who had compassion credentials it was Abraham—it stands to reason that he earned and deserved any kindness that would be bestowed in him. Therefore, why did Eliezer plead with the Almighty to perform kindness for my master, Abraham? Wasn’t it coming to Abraham anyway; didn’t he deserve it?
By this point in Abraham’s life, he had achieved everything most people desire in life. He had health, wealth, a family, trusted assistants, and looked forward to a good future. Yet, even such a person, the one who has everything, should realize how fragile life is and how nothing can be taken for granted. We are less than a week away from the 59th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He had everything—money, a beautiful wife and healthy children, the love of the American people and the admiration of most of the free world. He had it all but in one moment his and his family’s world would change forever. The person sitting in the most exalted position in the world still needs to realize how fragile his or her life is. Every human being, no matter how bright, strong, or prosperous, needs to recognize he or she needs kindness. Things happen, good people are at the wrong place at the wrong time, and in an instant, nothing is the same.
What happens when you, the person with the strength and resources, realize that you need help (kindness)? It serves as a catalyst for you to engage in more kind acts. After all, if you are the beneficiary of kindness, it makes sense for you to pass it on to others.
Sometimes we do charitable acts because we see people suffering and pity them. This is a noble motivation but ultimately there is a more purposeful motive. When you realize how fragile your life is by acknowledging your limitations and vulnerability, then you can step outside your own self-contained world. It is the realization that the human experience can’t be navigated or advanced in solitary lines of experience. We need to interact with one another because people’s lives affect one another, and this is accomplished when giving tzedakah and doing other acts of kindness.
Abraham realized that he needed to be connected to other people. The way he did this was doing kind acts to everyone in his midst—even those who were undeserving. The only way a person can come out of his or her fishbowl of existence (i.e., limited; without contact) is to be proactive and help other people. When you do for others, you connect with them and realize there is an entire realm of existence outside of your limited sphere. Every time you write a check for tzedakah, every time you call your old aunt, uncle, or lonely person with a difficult personality, every time you make your skills available to other people, you ingrain in yourself the idea that you actually need the other person because without him or her, you can never get out the comfort of your fishbowl.
“Abraham was blessed with everything.” There is no other Biblical figure about whom that is said. Even if you have everything, you need others because they are an integral part of fulfilling your life’s potential. Don’t think you’re some exemplary or righteous human being when you help someone else, realize that you need that person because he or she is bringing you out of your limited sphere of existence. No one can do it alone, not even the man or woman with everything.