Abraham and the Philistines

When Abraham and Sarah visited the Philistines, they neglected to mention that they were married. Abimelech, the Philistine king, soon requisitioned the beautiful Sarah for his harem, but G‑d appeared to Abimelech in a dream and warned him that Sarah was a married woman.

Abimelech summoned Abraham and asked why he wasn’t told of their marriage. Abraham explained that when he observed no fear of G‑d among the Philistines, he feared that if they knew about his marriage, they would kill him to get at Sarah. Abimelech released Sarah, and the story ended happily.

What led Abraham to conclude that the Philistines had little fear of G‑d? Our sages explained that this became obvious to Abraham from their discourse. The biblical narrative reveals that when he arrived in town, the people he met asked him all about Sarah, wanting to know if she was married, but had no questions about his plans for lodgings or meals. From this Abraham deduced that they were an uncouth and unprincipled people.

A Contemporary Tale

The Torah doesn’t tell stories for the sake of storytelling. In fact, the Torah carefully sifts through the many stories of our history and selects only those that contain an eternal message for us. This story, too, contains a message for all people at all times.

Just as Abraham and Sarah were married to one another, so is there a marriage between everything in our world and its purpose. The purpose of work is to provide for one’s family. The purpose of eating is to gain nourishment and live. The purpose of living is to serve G‑d. The purpose of courting is to marry, and the purpose of marriage is to build a home. In most cases, the purpose of building a home is to have children, and the purpose of having children is to forge a new link in the timeless chain of our people. We forge this link by raising them to study Torah, observe mitvahs and serve G‑d.

At times, however, we become so obsessed with the means that we forget entirely about the end. We lose sight of the forest because we become obsessed with a particular tree. Rather than working for the purpose of supporting our family, work becomes the largest objective of our lives. It consumes our mind most of the day, and drains most of our energies. By the time we come home at night, we are too tired to spend time with family. All we can think of is sleep.

When the weekends arrive, we look forward to some time off; but, rather than sitting with our children to review what they learned in school and to hear about their week, we take time to sleep in, socialize and catch up on chores around the house. Before we know it, the weekend has passed and it is time to get back to work. Another week has passed and our children have seen little of us, again.

For some, golf is their Achilles’ heel. The game of golf also has a purpose. Its purpose is either to unwind so we can refresh and recalibrate, or to conduct a particular piece of business on the course. But for many, golf becomes an obsession. We snatch every extra moment to perfect our game, and all we can think of is how to improve our swing and score.

There are those who couldn’t care less about golf, but are passionate about professional sports. For others, the obsession is not sports but alcohol. Wine has its merits as a sacramental drink. Yet when it is given too much importance, it can quickly become an obsession, and ultimately a disease.

The Internet is a constructive tool for a wide array of things such as business, academia and Torah teaching. Yet it can become an obsession that drains time from family, work, and even sleep. The Internet is especially destructive when the sites we visit are not entirely appropriate.

All of the above are examples of turning a means into an end. Everything that exists is married to a purpose. When we utilize it for its purpose, it enhances our ability to lead noble and purposeful lives. When we forget its purpose and indulge in it for its own sake, it becomes a vice. Vices don’t enhance lives; they destroy lives.

Abimelech took Sarah for his own pleasure, conveniently oblivious to the fact of her marriage. This is the equivalent of us indulging in our vices for our own pleasure, conveniently forgetting that G‑d made everything for a purpose, and that our task is to marry the object to its purpose by utilizing it properly.

A Matter of Speech

By the time a weakness becomes an obsession, it is usually too late to escape it without a great deal of dedication and some professional help. The trick is to catch the weakness before it takes over. To notice the telltale signs while they are still innocent, and take action at that time. The question is: where do we look for these telltale signs?

Abraham taught us that our predilections and weaknesses first become noticeable in our discourse. If the subjects that interest us most and that we discuss most revolve around our own passions, and we talk little about family, values, faith, goals and higher aspirations, it is time for introspection. If we find that we spend a disproportionate amount of time talking about a particular pursuit, be it work, golf, food or alcohol, it is a sign that we are beginning to turn this pastime into a vice. Rather than controlling it, it is beginning to take hold of us.

Though it appears quite innocent at the moment, we must remember that it is a sign of a burgeoning problem, and problems don’t begin when they are obvious. They begin rather innocently, but left unchecked, they grow beyond control.

The proper response is to take heed, put on the brakes immediately and limit our exposure to that particular pursuit. If we act quickly, we can gain control of the problem before it becomes a problem. Which is, of course, our ultimate goal.