Purpose First
TorahGenesis 23:1-25:18

Purpose First

Parshat Chayei Sarah

(File photo)
(File photo)

Ever forget your name? Ever stammer and stutter and then out of desperation reach for a generic title to replace your forgotten name?

Something happens in this week’s parsha that upon first glance appears to be a case of a man forgetting his name but upon closer examination reveals Torah’s formula for healthy living.

Avraham is on the hunt for a wife for his son Yitzchak. He dispatches his loyal servant Eliezer to find the right candidate. Presently, he arrives at the home of Besuel to propose a match with his daughter Rivkah. But when he introduces himself to them, he seems to forget his name, saying, “I am Avraham’s servant.” He presents his title but not his name. And from there he proceeds to lay out his mission and what he was aiming for with his visit. That is his entire self-introduction.

So did he forget his name in the process of remembering his aim? No. Instead, he knew something about life that we ought to learn and remember.

Eliezer was not only Avraham’s servant; he was also his closest disciple. Everything Avraham taught the world — monotheism, faithfulness, civility, common decency, humility, kindness and generosity — was imbued deeply and authentically in Eliezer. Here, Eliezer displays yet another gem learned from Avraham: To be consistently happy and successful in life, put your purpose ahead of yourself.

As an esteemed teacher has said, every person has a choice to make between existing and living.

The former would mean that a person elevates his or her existence above all else, pursuing first and foremost whatever will fortify their existence, even if it means sacrificing all sense of purpose in the process. This is associated with what people call “the survival of the fittest.” If the main goal is to survive, then you only need to be fit, you don’t need to be befitting. This leads inevitably to a growing sense of emptiness and moral aimlessness, coming to a head whenever the person awakens to the realization that in all their effort to remain here, they have never bothered to find out why they came here in the first place. That feeling of purposelessness is depressing and destructive.

The latter would mean that a person elevates his or her life above all else, pursuing first and foremost what gives meaning to their life, even if it means sacrificing some creature comforts for the cause. To this person, their reason for existing is far more important than existing. The purpose of life defines life. And so to such a person, the idea of compromising on the purpose to simply remain existing is unthinkable. This leads to a consistent sense of drive, joy and vision. Very little can break such a person because the person identifies with a mission and a higher calling.

No one understood this better than Avraham. He knew that his life was created by G-d and therefore it had to have a purpose, a G-dly purpose; he didn’t merely wind up on Earth as the result of some cosmic accident. He spent his youth searching for the purpose until, at the age of 75, he finally hears from G-d Himself and discovers G-d’s vision for the world and the role that he is to play in it. And indeed, his entire identity was one with his divine mission and purpose, as witnessed by his endless willingness to sacrifice himself, even his very existence, for the purpose.

Eliezer learned this from Avraham. He identifies by his mission, not by his name. He is one with his life, not only his existence. When he enters Besuel’s home on a mission from Avraham, he finds no reason to mention his name; that would only explain who he his, but not why he is. They would know who was standing before them but they wouldn’t know why. Instead, he announces that he is Avraham’s servant. That’s why he is here. Avraham has given him divine marching orders and that is his whole story.

This week, the emissaries of Chabad Lubavitch from all over the world are joining together in New York for their annual international conference. In step with Avraham and Eliezer, they do not identify as rabbis but rather as emissaries (“shluchim” in Hebrew.) The Lubavitcher Rebbe, of saintly memory, has given them divine marching orders to spread the light of Torah and mitzvot, goodness and kindness, and that is their whole story. Sure, they could tell you their names, but then you would only know half the story. By forgetting their names and calling themselves by their mission, you know the rest of the story — not only who they are, but why they are.

And dear reader, you should try it, too. After all, we are all emissaries from On High, sent here with a sacred mission to elevate existence and infuse it with holy life. That sense of exalted purpose is the master key to joy and vibrant living. The world whispers about it like it’s some kind of state secret, but it’s actually right there in black and white, in this week’s Torah portion.  pjc

Rabbi Moishe Mayir Vogel is the executive director of the Aleph Institute-North East Region. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.

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