Let’s Not Lose Focus of our Goals!
"And when Avram heard that his relative [Lot] was taken captive, he armed his disciples…" (Bereishis 14:14)
Rabbi Yosef Leib Bloch zt”l, former Rosh Yeshiva of Telz, has a beautiful parable illustrating the importance of focusing our lives on spiritual goals rather than on the accumulation of material wealth.
An Israeli tourist was traveling to America by boat. He carefully prepared for the trip, including buying a map and studying the cities at which the boat would stop on the way. When the tourist realized that he would be stopping in France for a few days, he studied basic French during the two months prior to his trip. Shortly before he left, he remembered that his final destination was America. He had neglected to learn English and now it was too late. When the boat docked in France, he was able to converse in French. He was able to get change and get directions to the hotel. The other passengers were impressed with his cleverness and preparation. However, when the boat reached America, his final destination, the tourist was red-faced with embarrassment. He was totally unprepared. He had prepared for the short stay, in France, but not for the long stay, in America. (based on a story in Rabbi Paysach Krohn’s book, The Maggid Speaks)
In Sefer Bereishis, there was a battle between four kings and five kings. The four kings were so powerful that they were victorious over the larger army of the five kings. They even defeated giants. During that battle, they captured Avram’s nephew, Lot.
When Avram was informed, he rushed to save Lot. Avram went despite the fact that he was going to battle against the most powerful army of that time. He also went despite the fact that the army he was going to fight against was more numerous than his group. He went to battle along with 318 of his servants who grew up in his household (The Talmud, Nedarim 32B, says that only he and his servant Eliezer went to battle).
According to Shmuel’s opinion in the Talmud (Nedarim 32B), before they left Avram showered his servants with lots of gold. Why did Avram do so? He didn’t want his servants to get distracted by the money from the spoils of battle. That would distract them from their mission of saving Lot’s life (see also Tosefos in Chulin 47B).
Rabbi Henach Leibowitz zt”l questioned why it was necessary for Avram to shower his servants with such wealth. They were ready to go to battle selflessly, risking their lives against enormous odds. They grew up in Avram’s house and under his tutelage. They clearly understood that their goal was to save a life, and that time was of the essence. Every second of delay could mean the difference between life and death for Lot. Could the lure of money actually distract them and delay them from their lofty goal? The answer is yes! A person can get distracted, even momentarily and even from a life-saving mission. That is why Avram had to enrich them before they left.
Rav Yisroel Salanter was once in Paris. When asked why he was there, he responded in a way to teach a lesson. He said that he came from Vilna to Paris in order to have a button fixed on his coat. The questioner was amazed. You came so far just to fix a button? Rav Yisroel wondered why he sounded so surprised. Our souls came from a much further distance (from the heavens). Did it come so far for the sole purpose of being involved in insignificant matters, such as the pursuit of wealth and pleasure?
Why were we born and put on this world? Was it towards the goal of increasing wealth and pleasure? Or was it to learn Torah and perform mitzvos? Have we gotten distracted from our final destination (the World to Come) by focusing only on our temporary stopover (this world)?