Thursday, November 12, 2009

Small Expectations

In Charles Dickens classic "Great Expectations", the protagonist grows up poor in the marshes of Wales. To his surprise and delight in his late teens he becomes the beneficiary of ongoing gifts from an anonymous donor that turns him from pauper to newly rich. For some years he believes the mysterious benefactor is an old eccentric woman he tried to endear himself to when a boy, someone he long hoped would leave him money in her estate. He is shocked to learn that in fact he is being supported by gifts from an escaped convict he once fed at the peril of his life when still a child, an escaped convict who later became wealthy and never forgot the kindness.

If Charles Dickens could name this weeks parsha of Chayai Sarah, he might name it "Small Expectations". There is much to learn from the story of Eliezer and his adventure to find a wife for Yitzchak. But what intrigues me this year is how Rivka, the woman who becomes our matriarch, finds all of who she is, then and forever, changed through one act of kindness.

I mean could Rivka ever have imagined that one day when she was walking to the well to get water for her sheep that she would be asked to do something the consequence of which would totally transform her life? Rivka is asked by a person who she perceives a total stranger, someone who had no prospects of ever mattering to her, if she might give him some water.
Had she any idea the import of her response? Of course not! Yet in her decision to not only give Eliezer water, but go beyond his request and water his camels she changed history, hers and ours, her children.

Rivka had small expectations. She was simply doing the act of hesed that she felt was right and good. Yet that seemingly small act had consequence beyond measure. Who would have ever imagined?

Whats the lesson here? You and I spend so much of our time worrying about the big issues, the big challenges of our life. And yet that which may be most consequential for our present and future may be the little thing that we encounter along the way. Whats that famous line "life is what happens while we are busy making plans!".

So much of the time we are focused on the future goal and acquire tunnel vision, missing the opportunities before us. We become blind to the real hesed that may be life changing for us and for others. I thought of this as I considered my daughter, Bat Sheva and her progress at school.
At times I can be so preoccupied wanting her to learn and grow that I miss the chance to compliment her, affirm her, show her that I love her. I think of her future but miss her present.
And in missing her present I may miss doing that which will be far more telling in influencing the person she will grow up to be and the direction of her life.

In Tehilim the pasuk reads "Ashrai shomrai mishpat oseh tzedaka b'chal et...Fortunate is one who is a guardian of justice and does tzedaka all the time" The Gemara wonders, "how can one do tzedaka at all times?" For me the answer is that the pasuk refers to one who is ready to do tzedaka at all times. S/he is never so lost in pursuit of his/her agenda that s/he misses the moment.
Like Rivka in our story, they seize every opportunity to do good for indeed who can know its import, not only for the other, but for us!

Who knows if the moment before our eyes is not the moment that will make all the difference in the world in terms of Heaven's decree for us or even in terms of some earthly consequence. In both Dickens' story and in our parsha, lehavdil, the main characters had no idea their single act would so radically alter their lives. I suspect you and I have many moments that pass like those, many moments with great import for us , but our small expectations of those times causes us to miss the moment and alas it is gone.

Let us emulate our mother Rivka and not let the hesed before us pass, especially with those nearest to us, who we often take for granted. One act, one word, one choice, can change our lives and persons forever! Open your eyes! Do it! Say it! Make it!

Shabbat Shalom

No comments:

Post a Comment