High on the list of my least favorite things to do is giving medicine to my children, especially the really small ones.
This past Shabbos, I noticed that my son, who just turned one, was feeling a bit warm. The next day he woke up with a slight rash on his face, and a lot of greenish shnozz flowing out of his perfectly adorable nose. The rash started creeping all over his body, and by Saturday night he looked like cheetah, except that his colors were skin and puffy pink. He was miserable and cranky, and we were worried and cranky.
I don’t mind the occasional cold. I think it’s fine that my children go to daycare every day with dozens of other little kids who at times harbor more viruses than a CDC laboratory; it helps build their the immune system. But when my lil’ man has splotches all over his body reminiscent of the biblical leprosy, I do get worried. To help increase my anxiety, goop was coming out of his eyes at an alarming rate. When I came to get him after a nap, the goop had sealed both of his eyes, and the poor kid was trying to follow my voice, reaching out with his little arms in my general direction.
First thing in the morning, we had my baby in the doctor’s office, where we thank G-d found out that he just had a regular throat infection. The splotches were an allergic reaction to the virus, and would creep away slowly the way they came. He also had conjunctivitis, which explained the goopy eyes. We were told to give him baby Tylenol and Benadryl for the virus and its allergic reaction, and eye drops for the conjunctivitis. Thank G-d there would be no quarantines, no isolation chambers, it was just a virus and some con-junkto-virus.
The problem was that I would have to give my little one year old baby medicine. He is a normal one year old which means that he likes medicine as much as I like nuclear warfare. He doesn’t want me to pry open his eyes and drop in little drops of liquid fire. He doesn’t want to drink medicine (that one I don’t really get, it comes in bubble gum flavor for crying out loud! When I was a kid it actually tasted like R-C9H11N2O4S).
This means that I need to hold him down and immobilize him so that he can watch me torment him while fully awake and aware. He’s yelling and screaming while I’m performing my duties, calm and resolute. He must think that I’m some sort of sick sadist. And then when I’m done, he looks at me with the look of someone utterly betrayed. “How could you do this to me?” his eyes yell, “you tell me 1,000 times a day that you love me, and then you torture me? You kiss my cheeks tenderly, and then you rip my eyes open and burn them? What kind of monster are you?’As soon as I’m done medicating him, he runs away from me as fast as his wobbly little legs can take him, never looking back.
The last time this debacle played itself out, a verse sprang to mind, (Deut., 8:5) “You shall know in your heart, that just as a man chastises (lit. pains) his son, so does the Lord, your God, chastises (lit. pains) you.”
My son is only one years old, and his comprehension is super limited. He doesn’t understand that I’m actually saving him from lots of future pain and suffering. As a baby, he can’t see beyond whatever is happening in the moment. All that he lives is the present, and if he sees me hurting me, he wants nothing to do with me.
As an adult, I can calmly subject myself to oral torture in the dentist chair because I know that the pain will quickly subside, and I will hopefully hold onto all my teeth. I have a broader band of knowledge than my little son, and I see the big picture. Sure it’s painful, but it’s for my best, and not only do I thank the dentist when he’s done, I actually fork over obscene amounts of cash for his services. It’s as if I’m saying, “Thanks for the pain, I know it will make me a healthier person!”
As the verse proclaims, it’s exactly the same with how we related to G-d. Compared to G-d, we humans have a very small comprehension band. We are emotional beings and we live in the moment. When things don’t work out for us, we feel betrayed by G-d, and we turn heavenward with a cry of “Why me, G-d? Why are you doing this to me?” We can’t see the big picture and understand that G-d is our Father in heaven, that he loves us tremendously, and whatever He does for us is only for our good.
Often, when we go through a tough time, we even turn our back on G-d, and walk away without turning back. With our little comprehension band, we can’t imagine why we should lose our job, get dumped, watch a family member get sick, or experience any other pain. We don’t realize that perhaps we were infected with a bit of haughtiness, ingratitude, recklessness, or laziness, and this is the medicine to cut out the infection. We can’t imagine that perhaps we were in a relationship with the wrong person, and speeding down the road towards years of relationship wreckage, and G-d is lovingly nudging us off the road. Rather than display anger toward G-d, we should be saying “Thank you G-d for this pain, I know it will make me a healthier better person.”
It is very hard to see this when you’re in middle of going through a challenge, but it is very easy to see it while you’re watching helplessly as your crying son runs away from you after you just pried his eyes open and squeezed in some fire-drops.
May G-d give us the strength and fortitude that when we are going through a challenging time we should know in our heart,“That just as a man chastiseshis son, so does the Lord, your God, chastises (lit. pain) you.”And may that knowledge allow us to power through the pain to the glorious future toward which G-d is guiding us.
In this week’s Parsha we read about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and how Lot, Avraham’s nephew is saved from the devastationby an angel. Although Lot’s salvation can be most closely linked to his relationship to Avraham, Rashi tells us that he too had a merit that made him worthy of being saved. When Avraham went down to Egypt, he told the customs officer that his wife Sara was his sister, out of fear that if the Egyptians knew he was the husband of this beautiful woman, they might kill him in order to take his wife as a concubine for the Pharaoh. Lot was there, and he could’ve told the customs officer the truth, and probably he would have been rewarded handsomely, but he didn’t. In this merit he was saved from the upheaval of Sodom and Gomorrah.
But this seems strange because we see Lot doing deeds that seem to be far more difficult. When two angels came to Sodom, he invited them in and gave them a place to sleep and eat, even though he knew that this would enrage the people of Sodom to the point where they might try to kill him. When they actually came and demanded that he send out the two guests, he went out and defended the guests at the risk of his life. That being the case, why wasn’t Lot saved in merit of these action, which seem to indicate a much higher level of sacrifice, than the fact that he didn’t divulge information that could have caused his uncle to be killed?
The Sages tell us that the reward someone gets is not determined by how great the action seems to be objectively, but by the level of difficulty the action presents to a particular person. One person may find it very easy to keep kosher, but finds if very challenging to get out of bed and go to morning services. Another person may have an easy time going to morning services, but finds keeping kosher to be grueling. Each person will be rewarded based on the extent to which they overcame that which they personally found to be challenging, not based upon an objective measure of the difficulty of the actions they performed.
Lot grew up in the house of Avraham, and therefore, inviting in guests was not something he found difficult, au contraire he found it quite rewarding. Kindness came easily to Lot, and, therefore, it would not earn him a “get out of Sodom free” card. His challenge was his attraction to money, which had been his primary reason for moving to Sodom, a place that had great farmland and pastures. For him, to refrain from “ratting” on Avraham, an act which could have made him wealthy, was enormously difficult, and therefore, in the merit of that action he deserved to be saved!
Often we take a specific mitzvah that is very difficult for us, and we negate its value by saying, “Oh, it’s only a small mitzvah!” But the truth is that if that mitzvah is a challenge for us, then it is not a small mitzvah, it might be our biggest mitzvah! Because G-d isn’t looking for big displays or large actions, G-d is looking for big hearts, and large self-sacrifice.
Our parsha begins with G-d coming to visit Avraham as he recuperates from his bris. This teaches us the importance of visiting the sick – if G-d took the time to do it, we should definitely do it as well. As G-d is talking with him, Avraham sees three angels disguised as Arab travelers passing before his tent. He asks G-d to wait until he finishes doing the mitzvah of hachnassasorchim, inviting guest to one’s home, and he goes out to ask the travelers to join him for a meal. As he serves them a meal fit for a king (I would say a meal fit for an angel, but angels don’t eat), they reveal themselves as angels, and one of them tells them that in exactly one year Sara will give birth.
After they leave, G-d picks up the conversation again by mentioning to Avraham that he is about to destroy the five cities of Sodom, Gomorrahet. al. Avraham, being the true patriarch of all humanity, prays to G-d on their behalf. Acting as a defense attorney, he pleads with G-d to spare the cities based on the good people within them but, lo and behold, G-d informs him that there are no such people, and that is the exact reason that the cities need to be destroyed.
Two of the angels journey on to Sodom. (Each of the three angels had a job, as angels receive only one task at a time.The first one, whose job it was to inform Avraham and Sara of their upcoming baby, had completed his job and left. The remaining two angels continue to Sodom, one of them to destroy the city, and the other to save Lot.) When they get there, Lot, Avraham’s nephew, invites them into his house, something that was sure to anger the citizens of Sodom, who were notoriously cruel to any visitors or to anyone who was kind to visitors. Sure enough, the entire population of Sodom gathers around Lot’s house that night to wreak havoc on him and his guests. The angels blind the people, and tell Lot that it was time to hightail it out of Sodom, before the upheaval. Lot leaves reluctantly, not wanting to lose his material possessions, and eventually is practically dragged out.
The angels instruct Lot and his family (one wife, two daughters) not to look back, as they don’t deserve to watch the destruction of people who were not much worse than they. Lot’s wife ignores the instruction and does look back and turns into a pillar of salt (my mother has a picture of a pillar of dusty, salty stone that is in the form of a woman, which she saw on one of her trips to Israel. Its proximity to Sodom has caused people to theorize that this might be Lot’s wife). Lot, after begging G-d to let him remain in a city nearby, a wish which G-d grants, decides to run off to the mountains in fear of even this city getting destroyed (Lot wasn’t the biggest of believers).
In the mountain cave, Lot’s two daughters discuss their predicament. Fearing that the entire world had been wiped out as it had been in the Great Flood, they thought they were the only survivors on earth. The problem, one that hasn’t ceased since then, was that there was a real big lack of eligible guys for them to marry. Not wanting to be the last humans, they get their father drunk on two consecutive nights, and sleep with him. They both have children and those two children became the father of the nations of Ammon and Moav. (You will see more about these nations in Numbers and Deuteronomy.)
At this point there is another famine in Israel, and Avraham moves to Gerar to escape the famine. History repeats itself, and in order to avoid the murder of Avraham, the couple claim that Sara is his sister. Sure enough, she is taken to the house of the king Avimelech. An angel keeps Avimelech away from Sara, while the entire kingdom is struck with the inability to expel anything from the body (including urination, bowel movements, giving birth etc.). G-d reprimands Avimelech who claims complete innocence. G-d commands him to immediately return Sara to her husband, and to ask Avraham to pray on their behalf. This is what happens, and life returns to normal in Gerar.
After this story, Sara becomes pregnant and gives birth. They give Isaac a bris on his eighth day, and also make a big party for him on the day he is weaned. Sara notices that Ishmael is trying to kill and/or corrupt Isaac, so she demands that Avraham banish Hagar and Ishmael. Avraham is reluctant, but G-d tells her, “Whatever Sara tells you, heed her voice.” (My wife, who is also named Sara, finds this to be her favorite line from G-d!)
Hagar and Ishmael are sent away with some food and water, but they soon find themselves lost in the desert with the water depleted, and Ishmael falls ill. Hagar, being the cruel mother she was (see last week’s email for more details), doesn’t stay with her son through his sickness, but simply leaves him under a tree saying that she can’t bear to see him die (since when is it all about you, Mrs. Hagar?). An angel appears to her and tells her that even though a lot of evil would come out of Ishmael’s descendants, G-d only judges people based on their current status and, therefore, Ishmael is deserving of being saved. The angel shows Hagar a well, and she nurses her son back to health. (This portion of the Torah is read on Rosh Hashanah to remind us that G-d only judges people based on the way they are at the moment, so any time a person makes a real honest commitment to change, they can get back in the good books.)
The last portion of this Parsha is the final test Avraham underwent, one that involved testing his son as well. This is sort of the moment where the reins were passed on to the next generation, as it is the final test of Avraham, and the one of the first for Isaac. G-d commands Avraham to sacrifice his most beloved son, Isaac. This is the most difficult test possible for Avraham whose whole life revolved around kindness but, even so, he gets up early the next morning to fulfill G-d’s wishes. Isaac, even after being told the purpose of the journey they are taking, willingly goes along. As a matter of fact, the reason this event is known as Akeidas Yitzchak, the Binding of Isaac, is because Isaac requested of his father that he bind him tightly so that he shouldn’t shake at the sight of the knife and make the sacrifice imperfect.
Before Avraham even has the chance to harm his son, an angel calls out to him and tells him to stay still. The angel goes on to explain that the event was really a test to see how faithful a follower of G-d Avraham was. Avrahom, in his deep desire to bring a sacrifice to his Creator looked around for an appropriate substitute and found a ram that G-d had prepared from the sixth day of creation especially for this purpose. (In commemoration of this act, we use a ram’s horn for the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah. It so to speak reminds G-d of the sacrifice our forefathers had, and hopefully serves as a merit for us to get a favorable judgment on Rosh Hashanah.) This is one of the most action packed Parshas in the whole Torah, and if you are still reading by now, please email me, so I can gauge how many people made it this far. Congratulations.
Quote of the Week: If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it. – Jonathan Winters
Random Fact of the Week: Singapore is the only city in the world that has a zoo that is open 24 hours a day!
Funny Line of the Week: I think they named the orange before the carrot.
Have an Electrifying Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham