On My Terms
I prefer walking in the park to using the treadmill in the gym. The walk is more pleasant. I think better and I can measure my progress for myself rather than watch the computerized report of how far I walked torturously increase at a spiteful pace. Three miles takes twice as long according to the treadmill computer.
There is another reason why I prefer the park: I am among the youngest and slimmest of the park walkers. Let’s just say that this is not true in the gym.
Debbie insisted that I go to the gym, so I sucked in my belly and headed for the treadmill. I did my best not to look at any of the younger, thinner bellies, so I decided to watch the giant television screen in front of me.
They were broadcasting a football game and I found it unbearable and boring, until…
Until I noticed that some of the players had bellies far larger than mine. They get paid a fortune to play even though they are so, well, I hate to use the word, fat.
The giant and very thin and muscular man on the next treadmill asked me, “Hey man! Why are you smiling like that?”
“I just realized that I could play in the NFL! But no tackling. I have a bad back and I don’t like all that pushing and shoving.”
“Man, they’re not gonna take an old guy like you, especially if you won’t allow any tackling,” he said.
“They’ll have to do it on my terms, or I won’t play.” I was joking, of course, but he took me seriously. “What makes you think they’ll take you on your terms? What’s happening to this gym? They’re allowing wierdos in here!”
Little does he know that it’s a pasuk!
Abraham wanted to purchase a burial plot for Sarah. He didn’t own any land, and people of those times were particular about burying strangers in their community plots. However, “You are a prince of God in our midst; in the choicest of our burial places bury your dead, any of us will not withhold his burial place from you, from burying your dead,” (Genesis 23:6) was their incredibly generous offer.
It wasn’t enough for Abraham. The people of Heth were willing to break all their rules for this prince of God, and allow him to bury his dead in the family plot of his choice. The honor of having Abraham’s family buried in their community was to great to resist.
How did Abraham respond to their generosity? “If it is truly your will to bury my dead from before me, heed me, and interceded for me with Ephron son of Zohar. Let him grant me the Cave of Machpelah which is his, on the edge of his field; let him grant it to me for its full price, in your midst, as an estate for a burial site.” (23:8-9)
In other words, “Thank you very much for your generous offer, but I don’t want to be buried in one of your plots. I want my own.” Abraham wanted things on his terms. He wanted to buy a part of their village and make it his own, no longer part of their village.
It happens again: He sends his servant Eliezer back to the family he left many years earlier to find a wife for Isaac. Abraham left his land, his birthplace and his family and now he needed them again. He didn’t bother to go himself; he sent his servant.
How did his brother, Betuel, feel about Abraham’s needs? His brother had broken from his family and now that he was looking for a wife for his son, he needed them again. He couldn’t bother to visit his nephew and family. He sent a servant. Abraham seems to want things on his terms.
It seems strange that the master of Chesed – ‘kin’dness – related to ‘kin’ship – treating everyone as kin, or family – would seem to deal so poorly with his family.
One thing is absolutely clear: Abraham knew what he wanted and what was necessary for the future nation to develop.
I have observed numerous people torn by their Chesed obligations. There are people who open their homes to everyone despite the financial and emotional strain. Women do not want to say no when their husbands want to invite guests, even if having company will be a burden.
Abraham is teaching us that we must have clarity BEFORE we do acts of Chesed. The Torah does not demand that we martyr ourselves for others. Chesed must be directed by our long-term goals and objectives for ourselves and the recipients.
Abraham was a master of Chesed because his Chesed was not a burden but a path to accomplish his goal of emulating and attaching to God. The man of Chesed went to war when necessary. He stood up to the people of Heth in order to purchase what was necessary for the future of Israel. He sent Eliezer to his family because that was what was needed at the moment.
Abraham would not compromise on his terms. His Chesed was directed. As should our Chesed as well.
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