Status Symbols

Friday, 29 October, 2021 - 7:07 am

Whether it be through Facebook or home décor, we are often engaged in some degree of self-promotion. On Twitter we let everyone know what we are up to, at the ballgame we demonstrate our allegiances and at home we show our true colors.

We are, on balance, a very self-obsessed society.  Those of us that are fortunate to be parents are sometimes yanked out of that constant self-promotion with the cry of a baby or the text message of a teen.  We know our duty is primarily to others and we come second.

But how do we ensure that we don’t succumb to our egos the rest of the time? What can we do to faithfully serve our true purpose in life? After all, we can only sense our own hunger, our own angst and worry. When it comes to feeling for others, we can’t physically feel their pain. We need to imagine what their physical and emotional needs are. In our self-absorbed society, it’s becoming more and more elusive. Even, the self-helpers are really just self-promoters.


An interesting dialogue in this week’s parsha may guide us. The Torah portion of Chayei Sarah speaks, in large part, of the effort to find a suitable match for Avraham’s son Yitzchak.  Avraham believed the corrupt girls of Canaan fell far short of the character necessary for Yitzchok’s spouse. So he dispatched his trusted servant Eliezer to Aram Naharayim, his birthplace, in search of a spiritual “catch” for his son.

When Eliezer arrives, G-d answers his prayers and a kind, charitable girl feeds him and his camels. He then learns that she – Rivka – is the daughter of Avraham’s nephew – a match made in Heaven! She agrees to go meet Yitzchak, but Eliezer wishes to seek permission from the family. He is invited in as royalty and served a feast fit for kings. But he insists, “I will not eat until I have spoken my words” – business before pleasure.

His opening words were simply: "I am Avraham's servant.”

It seems like a straightforward introduction to a story about his interest in Rivka. But if we are more familiar with Eliezer we realize it is a profound statement. Eliezer was no simple servant. Firstly, the Midrash teaches that he was Avraham’s primary disciple, disseminating the teachings of his master. Secondly, he was the CEO of one of the world’s wealthiest magnates.  He was a warrior and a diplomat as well.

With all these credentials, Eliezer could certainly have embellished in his own status. Instead he had three (Hebrew) words to say: עבד אברהם אנכי - "I am Avraham's servant.”

Indeed, Eliezer was accomplished. His truest virtue, however, was that he was 100% committed to the mission at hand. He was sent for a specific duty and at that moment that’s all that mattered.  He conveyed a powerful and compelling missive to Rivka’s family: this is not about me – we can talk about that later. Like a laser, he zoned in on one thing only: his current duty.


As I think about my role as a Chabad Shliach, highlighted this week during the annual Kinus HaShluchim (the international conference of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries), I am reminded about how my fellow Chabad Shluchim continue to succeed. Instead of focusing on self-promotion, we simply need to focus on the call of the hour. If we are constantly engaged in the service of others – helping a woman struggling with infertility, providing aid to devastated Nigerian locals, putting on tefillin with someone for the first time in their lives, or creating Jewish pride fire-seared artwork with teens – our Facebook status will not matter. It’s what we do that really defines us. Not what we say we do.

To overcome our human frailty of constantly seeking to be a status symbol, let’s simply remember that we are all servants in the employ of the Almighty. Focusing on what is expected of us will lessen the constant concern about our status – we’ll be too enmeshed in fulfilling our purpose.

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