D'vrei Torah by Rabbi Ellie Shemtov
All in good time, all in God time
Being patient is sometimes challenging. It can be inconvenient to have to wait for something we really want. All that waiting can also leave us with too much time to think, causing us to be anxious and worried. But as the old Chinese proverb goes, one moment of patience can ward off disaster while one moment of impatience can ruin a while life.
In this week’s Torah portion Vayera, Abraham and Sarah are visited by three angels who announce that Sarah will soon give birth to a son. When Sarah hears this news she laughs—in part because it would seem her age would prevent her from having a child, and in part perhaps because she has lost faith and patience in God’s continual promise of an heir. Since our first encounter with Abraham in last week’s portion when God tells him he will become a great nation there has been a presumption that Abraham and Sarah will soon become parents. As we move into this week’s portion that promise has yet to materialize despite God’s various pronouncements.
The birth of an heir is further delayed as the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah as well as Abraham and Sarah’s troubling encounter with King Avimelech, unfold. It is only after these incidents that וַֽיהוָֹה פָּקַד אֶת־שָׂרָה, God takes note of Sarah at which time she becomes pregnant and gives birth to Isaac.
Life often unfolds in ways we don’t expect and we tend to make plans while God laughs. In Vayera, it is an anxious Sarah who laughs-- anxious for God’s promise to transpire but often lacking the patience. Despite her lack of faith and patience the promise does eventually transpire– all in good time, all in God time.
Comparison is the shortest route to insanity.
According to social comparison theory, people judge themselves by comparing their abilities and opinions with others around them. In other words, we establish our personal self-worth based on how we stack up against others. While it’s normal to wonder how we measure up to other people, and while comparing ourselves to others is part of human nature and can provide one with inspiration, these comparisons can also set off feelings of inadequacy and failure.
In this week’s Torah portion Lech Lecha we are introduced to Abraham and Sarah whose travels at God’s urging take them from Haran to Canaan. After God asserts on several occasions how Canaan will be given to Abraham and his offspring, Abraham questions God’s declaration. What’s the point asks Abraham, of bestowing on me this land when I have no offspring? God assures Abraham he will have an heir but Sarah in the meantime hatches a plan of her own. If I can’t give Abraham a child she ponders, perhaps my maidservant Hagar can do just that by becoming Abraham’s concubine.
The plan works but as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. Not having thought through the implications of her plan Sarah is not, to say the least, overjoyed at Hagar’s pregnancy. Feeling insecure and jealous, וַתְּעַנֶּהָ שָׂרַי וַתִּבְרַח מִפָּנֶֽיהָ, Sarah lashes out against Hagar and Hagar runs away.
In comparing herself to Hagar, Sarah finds herself lacking which leads her to act unreasonably towards Hagar. Comparison after all, is the shortest route to insanity.