Hassidim tell the story of the second Lubavitcher Rebbe, who was once so intent on his studies that he failed to hear the cry of his baby son. His father, R. Shneur Zalman of Ladi, heard and went down and took the baby in his arms until he went to sleep again. Then he went to his son, still intent on his books, and said, “My son, I do not know what you are studying, but it isn’t the study of torah if it makes you deaf to the cry of a child.”
Think about this week as you went about your business. What were you focused on, what were you attentive to, and what did you miss? Did you find yourself, upon reflection, realizing that you had, perhaps, focused on the wrong thing? That you were focused in the wrong direction?
We read this week: God appeared to [Abraham] at the Oaks of Mamre, in the heat of the day. Looking up, he saw three men standing near him. The rabbis understand this to mean that God was present tending Abraham after he circumcised himself, at the end of last week’s portion. Other commentators point out that when Abraham looks up, he sees the three guests who will foretell Isaac’s birth, the ones who make Sarah laugh, so Abraham sees God is in the party. But what if there’s another meaning here? What if Abraham saw the three travelers, and seeing them, turned away from God to tend to their needs? Let me say that again: God is there, and Abraham blows God off in order to run—RUN! As a person pushing 100—to take care of these folks.
Actually, this shouldn’t surprise us. The Talmud teaches us that hospitality to wayfarers is greater than welcoming the divine presence, and Aaron of Karlin states that, when we turn our attention to others, we’re actually doing God’s will. God doesn’t want us fawning all over the divine self with ritual (you can hear Verna’s voice now asking “is this the fast I ask for”) but that we recognize the Godliness in each other and respond to it.
So what would that look like? It might look like stopping before saying something hurtful. It might look like noticing someone new at a gathering—like this one—and greeting that new person before going to your friends. It might look like not only thinking of the people we haven’t seen in a while but picking up the phone and calling them, or even writing a note to them, to let them know we care. It might be taking a deep breath when someone all of a dither distracts us from our oh-so-important task so we can focus on their needs.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote: “To live the life of faith is to hear the silent cry of the afflicted, the lonely and marginal, the poor, the sick, and the disempowered, and to respond.” To hear them, and to see them. To lift our eyes and see the people before us, so we can do God’s will. To see the work that is needed around us, rather than rushing off to our own task. Lift up your eyes this week. What will we see, and how will we respond? May we respond with the power God has given us—to mend what is broken, to lift up those who are fallen, to heal those who are hurt. Amen.