The Importance of Being a Servant – Parshat Chayei Sara
First there was the importance of being – based on the famous saying by French philosopher, Rene Descartes, "I think therefore, I am." He further explained, "we cannot doubt our existence." It is important to be and to be aware of being.
Then there was "The Importance of Being Earnest", a comedy written by Irish writer, Oscar Wilde.
But before all that there was "The Importance of Being a Servant". When Eliezer travels to find a wife for Yitzchak, as told in Parshat Chayei Sarah, he quickly finds himself in the home of his lord's, Avraham's, family. When he presents his story to them he does not introduce himself as Eliezer but rather as Avraham's servant.1 Many commentaries react to this statement. An interesting comment is made by the 12th century sage, Riva"sh. He points out that in the previous verse, Eliezer was offered a meal which he refused. Eliezer explained that he felt obligated to first tell his story. Well, couldn’t he just have a bite first? No. he felt his 'servanthood' so acutely that he couldn’t bring himself to eat until he had performed his mission. Telling them that he is a servant of Avraham was not just an introduction but rather an explanation of why he cannot allow himself to be sidetracked. He is a servant.
To what are we beholden? To what do we feel servants? We are here, after all, not just for our own sake3 but to be of service to a higher purpose and to others.2 Chessed, doing acts of kindness, was the attribute which Eliezer was looking for in a potential mate for Yitzchak.
Being a servant, in the words of a favorite teacher of mine, Doctor Nechama Leibowitz z"l, does not mean that you are being taken advantage of. You are not a 'sucker' if you go out of your way to help someone. You are being a servant.
We can often be our best selves when in the service of others. Though it is important to have boundaries so as not to totally lose yourself, I have found that when clients become busy helping others, they report an increase in self-value and a decrease in complaints about their own health.
Whether you choose a cause to which you are devoted or just to say good morning with a smile to the cashier or a neighbor, we can easily become servants and use ourselves for the greater good.
In memory of my mother Hentcha Leah bat Yitzhak Lipa, hk"m
Have A Great Shabbat!