Status Symbols

Friday, 18 November, 2011 - 2:00 pm

Whether it be Facebook or home décor, we are often engaged in some degree of promoting ourselves. 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 lucky 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. For others we need to project the image versus simply feeling it.


An interesting dialogue in this week’s parsha may help 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 travel to his relatives in Aram Naharayim 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 – after all the rich side of the family was visiting – 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 Abraham'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 wealthiest magnate’s affairs. 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 Abraham's servant.”

Indeed, Eliezer was accomplished, but his virtue is that he recognized his role. At that moment 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.

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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