Looking Out for Number One – Parshat Vayeira

We are number one. We need to look out for number one. There was even a book that came out in the fifties with the title 'Looking out for #1'. In a recent edition, the writer points out that each of us has a "moral right to take actions aimed at giving (ourselves) the greatest amount of pleasure and the least amount of pain"1 as long as we don’t bring harm to others. This is certainly important. In fact, I have clients whose main purpose in therapy is to deal with this issue specifically. But when they are done, what happens next? Is that all our life is about - just watching out for ourselves?

In this week's parsha, we find an example of one person who specifically spent time watching out for others. When a group of visitors came to Avraham's tent, he runs to meet them, includes his household in preparing food for them, offers them water, and when everything is all prepared and they have been served, the Torah tells us that "he stood over them while under the tree" while they ate.2 Did he have nothing better to do? My late brother-in-law, Rabbi Chaim Flom z"l, pointed out that Onkelos explains that he stood there in order to serve them and see to their needs. Avraham was wealthy and elderly. He certainly did not need to perform this service himself. Yet that was how he saw his role. Looking out for others was how he looked out for himself.

Looking out for number one is definitely worthwhile and the book is an important read. Yet that cannot be the end of the process.3 Even humanist psychologist Abraham Maslow, who wrote about self-actualization as being the highest human need, added later that this same self-actualization is to be performed in the service of others.4

We have a need to be egocentric  as long as we remember that part of who we are is the person who also thinks of others – even if that means just standing around and waiting under the tree.

 L'ilui nishmat my mother, Hentcha Leah bat Yitzchak Lipa, hk"m


  1. Ringer, Robert, Looking out for #1, Introduction, p. ix
  2. Bereishit 18:8
  3. Viktor Frankl stresses that we need to be our best selves in order to help others. The focus is 'the other'.
  4. Maslow, Abraham, A Theory of Human Motivation, Introduction

Have A Great Shabbat!laughing

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