Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Vayeira (Genesis 18-22) Outlast Your Past

Imagine a high school Physics student winning a national competition enabling him to work alongside Arthur Ashkin, last year’s winner of the Noble Prize in Fphysics. Ashkin tells him that he wants to slow down the electric current in a circuit but then instructs him to increase the voltage in the circuit. This student knows one of the most obvious and elementary laws of physics is that by increasing the voltage in a circuit, the electric current will also increase-not decrease. If you were that student, would you say, “Dr. Ashkin, it seems that you are not aware of a basic principle in physics; let me explain it to you.” Hopefully not, rather, if the student is wise, he would be thinking, “This is mindboggling! If one of the world’s greatest authorities in physics tells me do something that goes against (my understanding of) the basic laws of physics, it must be that I have much more to learn. The student then discovers a property called negative resistance, which means that under some conditions, increasing the voltage can actually cause the current to decrease; pushing harder on the electric charges actually slows them down.Imagine for a moment that you are Abraham and G-d asks you to sacrifice your only son. Even after you get over the emotional pain and struggle of losing your only, beloved son, a different thought enters your mind. It seems as though G-d’s command to offer Isaac is counterintuitive to everything Abraham has been told until this point. G-d just told him that this son, Isaac, will be his only heir and the one who will carry on his teachings of ethical monotheism, a concept that would change the minds and hearts of humanity forever. How could G-d tell him to kill Isaac, the only one capable of carrying on his message?It is similar to the high school physics student, who followed the directive of the Noble laureate, even though he didn’t understand his mandate and, even worse, it seemed opposite to everything he (the student) knew about physics. Why was the student willing to do it? He realized that (1) one of the world’s greatest physicists is more knowledgeable than he is and (2) he trusts him. So, too, with Abraham; He realized that lifeless idols created by humans were powerless but that the finely tuned world around him must have come from somewhere. When this Power revealed Himself, Abraham chose to do as he had been charged. From then on, he lived in the present; he wasn’t worried about the future. Instead of thinking, “who will carry on my teaching?” or “what will people say when it is discovered that I, the person who talks about peace and a loving G-d, did the most heinous act a parent can do?” He also didn’t allow his past knowledge of what he thought he should be doing (mentoring Isaac to continue his teachings when he died), impede him from doing what he was called to do at that moment. Abraham would not let his past or future trouble him, he lived in the present and did what he needed to.How many times have we not applied for a job we knew would help our career, family or perhaps other people simply because we were scared of (what would happen in) the future-i.e. being rejected? How many people feel they are not worthy of a loving relationship due to past experiences or being told by parents that they were losers and their life was worthless? How many people look up from their cubicle saying, I hate my life but I am stuck? The person who lives in the present never sees himself or herself as stuck because (s)he says, “let me do whatever I can right now to make sure things change; I don’t know what will happen but I will do something and take pleasure in the fact that I am doing everything I need to do.To live one day at a time means focusing on the present moment and, therefore, not having to worry about the past or future. People sometimes feel guilt or shame about their past and are unsure and anxious about (the unknown in) their future. In All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum challenges us to consider that truth that if one doesn’t have food to eat or a place to live then you have a problem, but everything else is an inconvenience. Chances are that whether it’s your past or future that is frightening you to the point of paralysis by analysis resulting in inertia, if you commit to live in the present and take a step forward, you will be in a better place than you are now.  We spend much of our life locked into thought of the past and dreams of the future. Thinking of the past breeds feelings of regret, nostalgia, melancholy or guilt. Living in the future quickly generates anxiety, fear and worry. The present moment is all we have and, even though we must have a vision with plans and goals for tomorrow, the only time we truly have is right now-the present. We can be present now, this moment, for our friends, parents, and children, instead of saying “what good will this conversation have?” Right now, you are doing an act of kindness. It doesn’t matter if you are a good or bad person, it doesn’t matter if you don’t think you have anything to say, it doesn’t matter if you can’t ultimately help the person with whom you are speaking or not. The main thing is that right now you can do something good.This way of thinking is empowering because it allows one to clear his or her mind of yesterday’s residue as well as any fears of tomorrow. Most importantly, it allows one to be present-this moment-for someone (and for ourselves).Often, one of our biggest questions in life is “What’s going to happen?” We may ask this about a relationship, career, family, or life in general but worrying about what’s going to happen blocks you from functioning effectively today. Instead of focusing on the future, focus on the plan of how you will get where you want to be. Even though you’re not seeing the fruits you had anticipated, they might still be in the ground waiting to sprout. Abraham did what he was supposed to even though he didn’t have all the answers to the questions he might have asked. He simply did-the rest has become the collective history of the Jewish people. (Sources: Likutei Halachos, Matanah 5 (Reb Nosson of Breslav, 1780-1844)as related in The Rebbe’s Shabbos Table by Yossi Katz; The Language of Letting Go, by Melody Beattie, p. 50; )
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 Good Shabbos
Rabbi Oppenheim
Charlotte Torah Center