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Two Minutes of Torah: Chayeh Sarah - What's in our control?

The popular serenity prayer written by the American theologian Reinhold Neiber says, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."  This prayer has become popular in American society because I think many of us feel that need to distinguish between those things which are within our control and those things which are outside of our control. 

We might still worry about those things which are outside of our control, but at least we’ll recognize the fact that we can’t do anything about that.  And, maybe then we’ll focus our efforts on those things that we can influence and change.  

In this week’s Torah portion, we get a sense of the serenity prayer in the oath sworn by Abraham’s servant.  Abraham tells the senior servant of his household that he should go back to Abraham’s birthplace and find a wife for Isaac.  The servant appears concerned that the woman might not want to follow him back and therefore asks, "and if she doesn’t come, should I bring Isaac back to your homeland?"  Abraham makes it clear that under no circumstances is Isaac to return to his homeland and instead says to the servant , "If, she refuses to come back with you, then you are free from the oath which you have sworn."

I imagine, that when the servant set out on his quest, he must have felt secure in the knowledge that he had only sworn over those things which he was responsible for.  If the woman he found refused to accompany him back, he would be free from his promise because that was something beyond his control. 

As we continue with the story, we see that Rebecca really is the one who decides whether she should or should not return.  Thankfully, for us, she chooses to accompany the servant back to Isaac to become his wife and one of our matriarchs.  There is a moment of uncertainty when the servant must have felt secure in the knowledge that whatever Rebecca decided he would be able to go back to Abraham either having fulfilled his promise or having been absolved of it. 

We often make promises over which we have no control, as the famous quote says "Promises are like babies, easy to make, hard to deliver."  As with all areas of our life, it is important to recognize what we have control over and what is beyond our control. 

Abraham and his servant were able to distinguish between the two and so the oath sworn by Abraham’s servant was both appropriate and deliverable and completely within his control.  May we have the power in our lives to distinguish between those things that we have control over and those things which we don’t.  And, when we make promises,  may we be careful to only promise those things over which we have control and that we can deliver.

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