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Home » Family Life, Life Is Beautiful, Vayera

Vayera: When Weakness Becomes Obsession

Submitted by on November 7, 2011 – 3:17 amNo Comment | 3,160 views

Abraham and the Philistines

When Abraham and Sarah visited the Philistines they neglected to mention that they were married. Abimelech, the Philistine king, soon requisition Sarah for his harem, but G-d appeared in Abimelech’s dream to warn him that Sarah was a married woman.

Abimelech summoned Abraham and asked why he wasn’t told of their marriage. Abraham explained that when he observed no fear of G-d among the Philistines he feared that if they knew about his marriage they would kill him to get at Sarah. Abimelech released Sarah and the story ended happily.

What led Abraham to conclude that the Philistines had little fear of G-d. Our sages explained that this became obvious to Abraham from their discourse. When he arrived to town, the people he met asked him all about Sarah, wanting to know if she was married, but had no questions about his plans for lodgings or meals. From this Abraham deduced that they were an uncouth and unprincipled people.

A Contemporary Tale

The Torah doesn’t tell stories for the sake of storytelling. In fact the Torah carefully sifts through the many stories of our history and selects only those that contain an eternal message for us. This story also contains a message for all people at all times.

Just as Abraham and Sarah were married to one another so is there a marriage between everything in our world and its purpose. The purpose of work is to provide for family. The purpose of eating is to gain nourishment and live. The purpose of living is to serve G-d. The purpose of courting is to marry and the purpose of marriage is to build a home. The purpose of building a home is to have children and the purpose of having children is to forge a new link in the timeless chain of our people. We forge this link by raising them to study Torah, observe Mitzvot and serve G-d.

At times, however, we become so obsessed with the means that we forget entirely about the end. We lose sight of the forest because we become obsessed with a particular tree. Rather than working for the purpose of supporting our family, work becomes the largest objective of our lives. It consumes our mind most of the day and drains most of our energies. By the time we come home at night we are too tired to spend time with family. All we can think of is sleep.

When the weekends arrive we look forward to some time off, but rather than sitting with our children to review what they learned in school and to hear about their week, we take time to sleep in, socialize and catch up on chores around the house. Before we know it, the weekend has passed and it is time to get back to work. Another week has passed and our children have seen little of us, again.

This hectic pace eventually catches up with us and we feel the need for vacation. We book time off and fly away to an exotic location for a week, where we finally relax, unwind and spend time with family. Yet, as soon as the vacation is over, we return immediately to our old habits.

For many, golf is the Achilles Heel. The game of golf also has a purpose. Its purpose is either to unwind so we can refresh and recalibrate or to conduct a particular piece of business on the course.weakness becomes obsession - innerstream But for many, golf becomes an obsession. We snatch every extra moment to perfect our game and all we can think of is how to improve our swing and score. Meanwhile, our spouses are at home with the children waiting in vain for our return. At the end of the game, when we finally return, we have no time for them because it is late and we have to rush off to our next appointment.

There are those, who couldn’t care less about golf, but their passion is professional sports. Following professional sports also has a purpose, to provide an outlet for entertainment and a constructive framework for the release of pent up energy.  Yet, there are those who become overly obsessed with following their team, catching the game and learning the meaningless statistics of every player. They are elated when their teams win and distraught when their teams lose.

For others the obsession is not sports, but alcohol. Wine has its merits as a sacramental drink. It also serves as a social lubricant to stimulate free flow of conversation. Yet there are those who turn the alcohol into the entire purpose of a social event and ultimately end up disrupting the event.

The internet is a constructive tool for a wide array of things such as business, academia and Torah teaching. Yet it can become an obsession that drains time from family, work and even sleep. The internet is especially destructive when the sites we visit are not entirely appropriate.

All of the above are examples of turning a means into an end. Everything that exists is married to a purpose. When we utilize it for its purpose it serves to enhance our ability to lead noble and purposeful lives. When we forget their purpose and indulge in them for their own sake, they become vices. Vices don’t enhance lives, they destroy lives.

Abimelech took Sarah for his own pleasure, conveniently oblivious to the fact of her marriage. This is the equivalent of us indulging in our vices for our own pleasure, conveniently forgetting that G-d made everything for a purpose and that our task is to marry the object to its purpose by utilizing it properly.

A Matter of Speech

By the time weakness becomes obsession, it is too late to escape without professional help, a great deal of dedication and a protracted battle against our own vices. The trick is to catch the weakness before it takes over. To notice the telltale signs while they are still innocent and take action at that time. The question is where do we look for these telltale signs?

Abraham taught us that our predilections and weaknesses first become noticeable in our discourse. If the subjects that interest us most and that we discuss most revolve around our own passions and we talk little about family, values, faith, goals and higher aspirations, it is time for introspection. If we find that we spend a disproportionate amount of time talking about a particular pursuit, be it work, golf, sports or film it is a sign that we are beginning to turn this pastime into a vice. Rather than controlling it, it is beginning to take hold of us.

Though it is merely a matter of discourse and appears quite innocent at the moment, we must remember that it is a sign of a burgeoning problem and problems don’t begin when they are obvious. They begin rather innocently, but left unchecked, they grow beyond control.

The proper response is to take heed post haste, put on the breaks immediately and limit our exposure to that particular pursuit.  If we act quickly, we can gain control of the problem before it becomes a problem. Which is, of course, our ultimate goal.

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