Self-serve?

“I am wealthy” exclaimed a simple man from a village in India, “because I’ve been able to do three things.  Build something, earn my living, and serve other people.”

When we serve something greater than ourselves, we sense our purpose. If the feeling of being unneeded generates despair, a certainty that we are needed generates dignity.

The earliest biblical example of answering the call to serve is found in this week’s portion of Torah. Its setting is the longest chapter in the Book of Genesis. This is not accidental. A sacred text doesn’t want the awareness of such a vital vocation to pass undervalued.

Abraham’s servant is tasked with finding a bride for Isaac. Rebecca earns the role with her empathic kindness. But her conduct is not the only reason for the servant’s success. The way he conducts his calling is equally impressive.

When he tells Rebecca’s family who he is and what he has been called to do, the servant leaves nothing out. He describes the birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah. He tells of his worry that he might fail and of Abraham’s reassurance that God’s angel will be by his side. He even shares his personal prayers in which he yearns to properly fulfill his mission. He is transparent and vulnerable. He expresses fears and his higher cause becomes clear. He successfully moves Rebecca’s family – including Laban who will later prove to be highly manipulative – to an appreciation of the divine will and higher values. He adroitly serves, executing his mission with precision and humility.

We live in times when self-service can make life easier. It makes grocery checkout more efficient. It helps us gain competencies. Indeed, self-advocacy is valuable. But when self-service becomes self-serving its luster fades.

Abraham’s servant is not named in Chapter 24 of Genesis. Fame is unimportant for him. May we remain mindful of how leading with a spirit of service-above-self calls deeper than misleading by clutching in self-serving ways.

A sweet Shabbat to you.
Rabbi William Hamilton
Image courtesy of the Pucker Gallery | Ken Matsuzaki, Jar, yohen natural ash glaze | Stoneware, 17.5 x 16 x 17″