Parashat Hayyei Sarah Genesis 23:1-25:1
Every encounter holds holy potential
In this week’s Torah portion, Abraham sends his slave to find a wife for Isaac. The dramatic scene unfolds as the slave finds Rebecca, described as tovat mar’eh me’od, “an exceedingly beautiful girl” (Genesis 24:16). When Rebecca returns with the slave and Isaac sees her, it is love at first sight.
When Abraham’s slave journeys to the city of Nahor, he utters a prayer … the first prayer for divine guidance in the Bible. He prays, “Eternal One, God of my master Abraham, please bring me luck today …” (Genesis 24:12). He is looking for a sign, a symbol, some tangible proof that he is doing the right thing. He is hoping for some physical reassurance from a God who does not exist in the same physical way as the gods of that ancient world.
When, in today’s world, we may look for manifestations of God’s presence, it is an extraordinary challenge to feel close to God. For some, reciting the prayers prescribed in the siddur on a daily or weekly basis is an important part of nurturing a sense of closeness to God. For others, meditation or yoga or other spiritual practices not found in the prayer book are important in their spiritual lives. For others, ritual practice is not important, but they feel close to God through human interaction, through the holiness they see in other people and grow through the relationships they build. I will always be grateful to one of my teachers, Dr. Eugene Borowitz. Rabbi Borowitz is a brilliant scholar with a beautiful soul. He is a renowned theologian and gifted author and teacher. He is, to use a rabbinic expression, one of the gedolei ha-dor, “giants of our generation.”
In one of our theology classes, as we considered the complex writings of the great thinkers, Rabbi Borowitz offered us a simple but extraordinarily powerful spiritual exercise. He urged us, as we take in the many kinds of people we encounter while sitting on the subway or walking down city streets, to look at each one and say to ourselves, “they are created in the divine image.” Every person, no matter his or her appearance, attitude or behavior, is created in the divine image.
Having carried that teaching with me for all these years, I try, in every encounter, to search for the spark of the divine in those I meet. I try to approach every encounter as if it were filled with holy potential: that we will learn or grow or accomplish something good out of our time together.
Just as Abraham’s servant called out to God, praying that God would watch over his mission, may we all sense the Divine Presence as we go about our daily tasks. May the Holy One bless us in all that we seek to do, leading us down a path of good and righteous behavior.
Rabbi Peter W. Stein is the rabbi of Temple Sinai in Cranston and the immediate past president of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.