Our Two Worlds

In today’s world, it is so easy to get caught up in the development and achievement of the many goals we set for ourselves.

From the time we are very young, we are trained to begin thinking about what we want to be when we grow up and how we will get there.

And as we grow up, those objectives multiply as we consider the many goals we set out to achieve: getting ahead in our careers, earning money, getting married, having children — the list goes on. And, as we continue through life, we set new goals and set out to do all the things necessary to achieve those goals. Once we achieve one goal, we are already planning the next, ready to run out to complete it and move on to another one.

And as we spin through the kaleidoscope of movement it takes to reach one goal after another, it is much harder to stop ourselves en route and ask: Where am I in all of this, and what does God want for — and of — me?

In the opening words of this week’s Torah portion, Vayera, the Torah records, “And God appeared to him [Abraham] in the oaks of Mamre, sitting in the opening of the tent.”

Why is it that the Torah tells us that Abraham is sitting in the opening of the tent? After all, if Abraham wanted to find God, would we not expect that he would be out doing all the things necessary to make that meeting happen? If his goal were to meet God, wouldn’t he, like we, be outside finding all the ways to achieve that goal? Yet, despite the midrashic suggestion that it was only the third day after Abraham’s circumcision, we are also not told that he is inside the tent, retreating from the outside world, waiting for God to appear. It is in neither abandoning the home nor abandoning the outside world that Abraham ultimately finds God.

Instead, we are told that he is sitting “in the opening of the tent” on the threshold between the home — his private space, his inner world of devotion, solitude and privacy — and the outer world, the world of achievement and taking control of one’s own goals. It is in that very pause between his two worlds that Abraham invites in God’s appearance. It is only after his momentary pause that Abraham is ready to embrace his next task with renewed vigor, enthusiasm and a sense of purpose. The narrative continues to describe how he runs out of the tent to welcome three men to his home, invites them in and offers them hospitality, eager to do what he can to please them and to be an exemplary host.

It is in this very idea that the Torah comes to teach us an important lesson. Instead of constantly running through the world, doing all the things necessary to show that we are in control, perhaps we, like Abraham, sometimes need to slow down before running to embrace our next task.

Perhaps we, too, must sit on the threshold between our own world of inner reflection and devotion and the outer world of goal orientation, directed objectives and tasks to be accomplished. In so doing, we create our own space — for our truest selves to emerge and for inviting God’s appearance into our lives. And, in creating that moment, we, too, find renewed vigor, enthusiasm and a sense of purpose for the tasks that lie ahead.

May we all be inspired by Abraham to find our own threshold, our “opening of the tent” between our inner and outer world, where we can search for — and hopefully find — God’s presence in our lives.

Rabbi Cheryl Peretz is assistant dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism.

This column originally appeared in The Journal on Nov. 2, 2001.