11 Shvat 5781 / Sunday, January 24, 2021 | Torah Reading: Beshalah
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Boundaries of Growth - Vayeira    

Boundaries of Growth - Vayeira

We need tremendous siyata d'Shemaya, Heavenly assistance in erecting proper boundaries...


In this week's parsha, Avraham Avinu, our father Abraham, was sitting at the entrance of his tent anxiously awaiting the opportunity to serve guests! He was recovering from surgery and in severe pain, yet he couldn't wait to welcome strangers into his home and bring them under the kanfei haShechina, to teach them the truth of the One and Only God!
And then, when three dusty travelers finally appeared, Avraham interrupted his conversation with Hashem (!) to run and greet them (We connect to God through emulating Him. To read more, click here). After warmly welcoming the dirty idol worshippers into his home, Avraham didn't just make do with serving them a cup of coffee and a piece of cake; he slaughtered three cows so that he could honor each of the wayfarers with an entire tongue! All this so that when they thank him for the wonderful meal, he could tell them to thank the Almighty instead.
Okay folks! Let's sell our homes, hock everything we own and go into debt to emulate Avraham's hospitality!  If we can't serve each of our guests an entire tongue, then, at the very least let's serve a four course meal with all the trimmings! And since Avraham's tent had four openings to make it easy for people to find their way into his house, let's post notices throughout the city and keep our doors wide open to welcome everyone inside, no matter who they are and what their background!
Is that really what's expected of us?
I once attended a lecture by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller for mothers of special needs children. She was talking about the importance of setting limits and making clear boundaries. She told the audience that a mentally unbalanced guest once asked to be invited for the Seder. On one hand, Rebbetzin Heller saw this as an opportunity to do chessed (after all, who else would be willing to have this woman at their Seder?); to help another Jew in need.
On the other hand, this woman was extremely challenging and hosting her was emotionally exhausting. She demanded constant attention, which would be at the expense of the family's needs. Having this woman as their guest had the potential to ruin the family's Seder.
Rebbetzin Heller discussed this problem with a Rav. In my opinion, the Rav's advice should be printed and posted on a prominent place in every home. He said that when it comes to helping others, we should put ourselves out of the picture, so to speak, and being completely objective, decide whose needs are really more important. Is hosting a mentally unbalanced woman warrant ruining the Seder? What's more important: that this woman has a Seder or that a family has a Seder?
In the case of the mentally ill woman, if I remember correctly Rebbetzin Heller decided that her family's needs outweighed the woman's desire to be her guest for the Seder, so she arranged for this woman to spend the Seder at a hotel.
Yes, as religious Jews we should try to stretch ourselves; to do a just a bit more than what we think we are capable of doing: to smile when we feel like growling, to welcome guests into our home, to help our neighbor in need. We are even expected to stretch our finances and give tzedaka to others, even if we, ourselves, are struggling. Our mission in this world is to spread Hashem's light, to be m'kadesh Shem Shemayim. On the other hand, our needs and our families' needs are valid and important. As a matter of fact, they are our first priority, because if we lose ourselves and our families, we are incapable of accomplishing anything!
Most women (and men) find this balancing act extremely challenging. Not all of us are able to have an open home, and not all of us should have an open home! Does visiting a sick neighbor warrant leaving our own children without supervision? Is it really a mitzvah to spend the entire day on the telephone arranging a chessed project, while our families' needs are ignored (sometimes to the extent that they become someone else's chessed project!)?
My late father's wife, Doris, once told me a beautiful story about her childhood during the depression. Every day, Doris' father gave his wife a certain amount of money to purchase food for the family, and every day she would go to the store and buy fresh fruits and vegetables, chicken or meat to prepare a nourishing meal. There was always enough, but there was never anything extra.
One evening, a neighbor confidentially told Doris' mother that her husband had been out of work for several weeks. The situation was so bad that it had been over a week since her family had eaten a real meal.
Doris' mother immediately handed her neighbor the freshly cooked meal that she had prepared that afternoon for her own family.
"That evening," Doris said, "we had bread and jam for supper. But instead of complaining, my mother made it sound exciting! 'Look what a special treat we're having!' she told us, and we really felt that it was a special treat. I was the only one, other than the neighbor and my mother, who knew truth."
Yes, Doris' mother stretched herself. She gave her neighbor the nourishing meal that she had prepared for her own family. However, she never let her family feel that it was an act of self-sacrifice; that they were lacking because she was a tzadekes. Instead, it was fun – eating bread and jam for supper was a treat, not a punishment. Since Doris' family was well taken care of – a nourishing meal was the norm -- her mother was able to make an exception and serve bread and jam instead. But if she had always served her family bread and jam while preparing gourmet meals for the neighbor, she would have been putting her neighbor's needs above the needs of her family.
Balancing our personal needs, our families' needs and the needs of others require a lot of deep thought and tremendous siyata d'Shemaya. Rebbe Nachman speaks of the importance of ironing out these problems with a friend. "You should always talk to your friends about spiritual matters." It's easier for friends to be objective, to see if our desire to do for others is coming from a true longing to bring Hashem's light to this world (including to our own families, as well as to ourselves!) or if it comes from a need to be known as the neighborhood's tzadekes!
We need tremendous siyata d'Shemaya, Heavenly assistance in erecting proper boundaries: boundaries that protect without repelling; boundaries that give us space to grow and develop, so that we can eventually expand those boundaries. May Hashem grant each and every one of us the wisdom to give of ourselves, without depleting ourselves.

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