Rabbi O’s Parsha: Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18) Living in a Fish Bowl

Abraham had a faithful assistant, Eliezer, who was so competent and trustworthy that he was put in charge of every aspect of Abraham’s household and possessions, and was the only one Abraham could trust to find a spouse for Isaac. Eliezer asks for Divine assistance 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 bride for Isaac would not be particularly difficult. Whether we think it is fair or not, a young man or woman from a prestigious family with a sterling reputation will have an easier time dating than everyone else. Therefore, why does Eliezer have to ask for chessed (kindness) for Abraham? When we ask for kindness, we are asking someone to be generous. When a pianist messes up a recital and someone comments, “that was really good,” the listener might say, “you are being very kind.” But when someone wins an Olympic gold medal, and someone else comments on how great an athlete (s)he is, it would not be appropriate to say, “you’re so kind; the person earned it without any kindness. When someone asks the boss for a raise even though (s)he has not performed to standard, (s)he is asking for kindness but if (s)he has done everything necessary for a year-end bonus, (s)he has earned it and does not ask for kindness, only proper compensation. Abraham had so much and spent his life doing chessed (acts of kindness); it would seem he should be compensated for his kindness. Why must his servant beg that G-d be kind with Abraham?
The Midrash gives perspective.
Rav Chagai in the name of Rabbi Yitzchak says, every person-even Abraham-in this world needs chessed (kindness). Even though all kindness comes to the world because of the chessed done by Abraham, nonetheless, even he (Abraham) needs chessed.
Abraham’s kindness was well known in his time and had an effect on others including his nephew Lot, the people of Mamre, and the king Avimelech. His model of kindness caused a change in attitude and substance of the people in his midst. Once again, we return to our question: why did Abraham need chessed (kindness)? If there were ever a person in history to whom kindness should come, it is Abraham. He earned it, and deserved to be compensated for it. Why did Eliezer plead with G-d to perform kindness for my master, Abraham?
The answer requires us to look at kindness in a new light; it is a sense of codependency-in a positive way-that one human has for another. By this point in his life, G-d had blessed Abraham with everything.(Genesis24:1). He had achieved everything most people look to achieve in the course of their lives. He had a stable robust life, family, trusted assistants, wealth, financial independence, and a good future to look forward to. Yet, even such a person, the one who has everything, should realize how fragile it all is and how things can change. In a few weeks it will be the 55th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He had everything-money, a beautiful wife, healthy children, and the love of the American people but in one moment that changed. The person sitting in the most exalted position in the world still needs to realize how fragile his or her life is. That recognition inspires us in a new way to do chessed (kindness).
Ultimately, what is our motivation for doing charitable acts? Sometimes it is because we see people suffering and we pity them. Sometimes we sense that G-d is a moral force in our world and wants us to be kind to one another; He is kind and we are to emulate Him. Sometimes we sense the potential of another human but due to their deficiency in some area, they can’t accomplish what is needed to fulfill their potential, so we help them achieve it. These are all noble motivations but ultimately there is a more powerful motive.
When you realize how fragile your life is by acknowledging your weaknesses 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 each other and this is accomplished when give tzeduka.
As successful as he was, 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 not deserving of his kindness. The only way a person can come out of his or her fish bowl of existence (i.e. limited; without contact) is to be proactive and help other people. When you do for others, you connect to them and realize that there is an entire realm of existence outside of your limited sphere. Every time you write a check for tzedukah, every time you call your old aunt or uncle or call that 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 fish bowl.
“Abraham was blessed with everything.” There is no other Biblical figure about whom that is said and that is why he serves as a template for us. Even- especially-if you have everything, you need others if you want to fulfill your potential in life. No one can do it alone, not even the man or woman with everything.
Good Shabbos