There are few feelings that leave us more challenged, hurt and insecure than the feeling we get from being ignored. Part of this may stem from our need to feel we have what to contribute.
One would think that the more important someone is to us, the less chance there is that we would ever ignore them. Everyone has that special list of a select few friends and family members whose call they take no matter how busy they are. And yet, so often, it is the people we should care about the most who we tend to ignore. And the closer someone is, the more painful it must be to them when we ignore them.
Of course, the greatest lessons are learned from the most painful mistakes. I recall visiting our daughter’s nursery class for a Shabbat party. Our daughter, aged four at the time, was the Shabbat queen that Friday, so she got to wear the crown, light the candles for all the children, and I wanted to surprise her by showing up with a guitar. There are certain moments that are beyond description, like the look on my daughter’s face when I showed up and offered to sing and tell stories; her beaming face still warms my heart years later.
Assuming, therefore, that she was already on top of the world, and not wanting to appear to play favorites, I was calling on the other children to answer the questions that emanated from the story. Only the teacher’s gesture alerted me to the tears streaming down my daughter’s face because I wasn’t asking her a question.
It didn’t matter that the whole reason I was there to begin with was because of her; one moment’s perception that I was ignoring her was more painful than the joy of the whole morning put together.
Eli Wiesel once said, “A Jew can affirm G-d, or he can deny Him, but he cannot ignore Him.” But is this true? Don’t we ignore G-d all the time?
If we truly accept the concept of a loving, giving, G-d, could we ever be rude? Could we ever cheat on our income tax? Or speak ill of another human being, created in the image of that very same G-d?
This week’s portion of Vayera begins with G-d “appearing” to Abraham. Tradition tells us G-d is actually visiting Abraham who is recovering from circumcision (the end of last week’s portion) in Elonei Mamrei at the ripe old age of 99. In the midst of G-d’s visit, Abraham looks up and sees three strangers coming towards him, hot and tired from the desert sun. Although the verse (Genesis 18: 1-2) clearly states they are headed his way, he nonetheless jumps up and runs to these strangers, whom he has never met, in order to usher them into the hospitality of his home.
Imagine. Abraham is in the middle of speaking with G-d, and without so much as a by-your-leave, indeed without any explanation, he runs off! Can you imagine, in the middle of a conversation with, say the president or the Lubavitcher Rebbe, visiting you on your front porch, you’re running off in mid-sentence without any explanation?
How could Abraham behave in such a fashion before G-d?
Who were these three fellows? Jewish tradition suggests they were pagan idolaters. So Abraham interrupts a conversation with G-d to help three pagans, already coming his way? Perhaps this was not an interruption of his relationship with G-d but an expression of it.
Ever wonder why Abraham was the first Jew, and not Noah? Perhaps it is because Noah got into the ark without rescuing others, but Abraham refused to accept the imminent destruction of Sodom, arguing with G-d to save even the most wicked cities on earth.
Every time I ignore my fellow human being, in however small a way, then a part of me isn’t there either. Because the only place the Torah ever tells us we can find G-d is inside every human being — and if I don’t see Him in the person standing next to me, then I’ll never really find Him anywhere else.
May we all be blessed to see — really see — everyone around us. And if this small thought causes one person to pay a little more attention to the people sitting right in front of him, then the world will have been brought a little bit closer to where it needs to be.
Originally published in 2011.