- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2003

The following is an excerpt from a sermon preached Saturday by Rabbi Meni Even-Israel at the University of Maryland Hillel Center.

In this week’s Torah portion, there are three interesting stories with the same theme:

In the first story, the patriarch Abraham goes to the people of Chet to purchase a burial plot for his beloved wife, Sarah.

The text continues for a dozen lines as Abraham and Efron, leader of Chet, exchange diplomatic formalities. Efron talks a lot but skirts the main issue. Eventually, at the persistence of Abraham, a deal is made. Abraham signs a contract and pays for the plot fair and square.

In the second story, Abraham realizes that he is aging. He sends his assistant, Eliezer, to Aram Naharaim — land of Abraham’s parents — to find a wife for his son Isaac. Eliezer prays to God, asking that the girl not only be physically attractive and articulate, but also kind in action.

The third story takes place after Eliezer actually sees Isaac’s future wife, Rebecca, and realizes that she is a close relative of his master. Eliezer tries convincing Rebecca’s family to allow her to return with him as soon as possible. Frustrated with the long conversations and many excuses from Rebecca’s brother Lavan, Eliezer suggests they ask Rebecca’s opinion on the matter.

The link between all of these stories is the great emphasis on the actual deed. Polite small talk and theoretical discussions are not Abraham’s way of dealing with matters. In all three cases, it is evident that Abraham and his family value action — not mere words. The lesson we learn is clear. While we can hold intellectual discussions on the Bible and our forefathers’ actions, we cannot leave it at that. Abraham is not just a legend, detached from our lives. These stories are not just ancient texts to study in a dusty room. We have the obligation to learn from the text and relate it to our everyday lives. The message in this particular Torah portion is that one should always support one’s words with actions. Bottom line: Be sincere.

If you are not going to follow up your words with something real, don’t bother saying it at all.

Oftentimes it is difficult to perceive what are a person’s real intentions. We arrive to a social gathering and are greeted with hugs and seemingly kind words. But are the people genuinely glad to see us, as their words would indicate? Would they really care if something happened to us? How far would they go to help us?

With Thanksgiving and other holidays approaching, it is curious to note that we only seem to care about our families during this season. We anticipate seeing everyone at the table, exchanging gifts and wishes; however, deep down we are glad that we won’t have to do this again for another year.

Until recently in America, the entire family used to sit down together for dinner every evening. We should visit and call our elderly relatives often to let them know we care. The Jewish tradition maintains this idea in the form of Shabbat — a chance to relax and catch up with our family.

When we ask someone how they are doing, we should pause for a minute and actually listen to them. And if there’s something we can do to help, we should not hesitate. This is a very simple step we can take to improve society on an individual level.

The message is clear: Talk is cheap. Abraham was a great man, and this is primarily due to the fact he was a man of action and not words alone.

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