The final journey

The food that we eat nurtures us for a day. The food that we give to others remains with us forever.

By
November 3, 2014 11:16
bible

Abraham visited by angels . (photo credit: JPOST ARCHIVE)

Today, I want to share a reflection about life’s final journey.

Abraham planted an Eshel and our sages had two different explanations for what that was. Some said it was an orchard, others said it was an inn. Some name their inn, The Red Roof Inn, others name their inn, The Holiday Inn. Abraham called his inn, the Eshel Inn.

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Eshel is an acronym for three words, Achila, Hebrew for eating, Shtiya, Hebrew for drinking and Levaya, Hebrew for accompaniment. Abraham’s inn was unique. He offered food and drink like any other inn, in addition, he offered a somewhat unique service. He accompanied each of his guests on their way.

On the surface, accompaniment seems a less important benefit than food and drink. The traveler is hungry and wants a square meal. Accompaniment is not as critical to the traveler, who traveled to this point without assistance and is perfectly capable of continuing without company. But on a deeper level, accompaniment is the most important element. A weary traveler thirsts on two separate levels. The body hungers for food. The soul hungers for warmth, acceptance and camaraderie.

Along with the immediate need for food and drink, comes the no less important need for warmth, hospitality and friendship. When travelers leave your home and the long road stretches out before them, their old weariness returns. The warm cheer and soothing comfort of your home fade quickly as the daunting specter of loneliness dawns again.

When you accompany your guests, you assure them that they aren’t traveling alone. You might only accompany them for several minutes, but that suffices to communicate that though you are parting in body, you will not part in spirit. The guests will have left the inn, but they will know that someone back there will think of them, worry for them and pray for their welfare. That is a nurturing thought.

On a deeper level the accompaniment implants an even greater truth in the heart of the traveler. The Torah doesn’t say that Abraham built an inn, but that he planted an inn. The strange terminology hints at a deep message that Abraham sought to implant in the hearts of his guests.

Our sages taught that when Abraham fed his guests he engaged them in discussion about G-d. When they concluded their meal he implored them to thank G-d rather than their host. Abraham sought not only to feed his guests with physical food, but to nourish them with food for thought. Building on this concept, Rabbi Yisrael of Mozitch suggested that by accompanying them, Abraham sought to impart a lasting lesson.

Most of our day is spent on providing for ourselves and our families. We work to earn money and use it feed, clothe and shelter our family. From time to time we make time for holy endeavors such as Torah study, ritual traditions and acts of goodness and kindness.

When we embark on our final journey, the items for which we toiled so mightily don’t accompany us. The house and furniture, the savings and bonds don’t come with us. The car and the cottage must be left behind. The clothes and jewelry must be jettisoned. Only things of lasting value accompany us. The Mitzvot that we did, the charity that we gave and the time that we spent in the study of G-d’s Torah.

When Abraham accompanied his guests he would talk to them about the eventual final journey. He would tell them that the opportunity for hospitality that they had just provided him, would fortify him and accompany him on his final journey. He would thank them for their lasting gift and implore them to fill their lives with the same kind of gifts.

The food that we eat nurtures us for a day and must be replenished tomorrow. The food that we give to others remains with us forever. The clothing that we wear last until they wear out and new garments are purchased. The clothing that we give to others remains with us forever. The money that we spend on ourselves lasts only until it is expended. The money that we give to others remains ours forever.

On the final journey there are only so many types of luggage that we are permitted to take along. The wise person accumulates more of what can be taken along than of what must be left behind.

The other day I met two people assessing the gardens at our synagogue. Not knowing the first thing about gardening, I asked them what type of work is required in the fall. They replied that fall is the season to transplant and to trim. Some plants, they explained, grow quickly and crowd out the slower growing plants. They need to be trimmed back to make space for their slower growing counterparts.

I realized that we always read about Abraham’s inn during the fall. If this is the season to trim back the fast growing plants to make space for the slower growing plants in the garden then it is also the season to trim back the shallow endeavors that crowd out the more important things in life. The immediate need for more and for better, the desire for fancier and for more expensive, consumes so much of our time and energy that it crowds out the important endeavors of Torah, Mitzvah, goodness and kindness.

This is the season for transplantation. To take the less important plants and transplant them to the back of the garden and place the most important endeavors on the front burners of life. It is the time to consider whether we have allowed the least important parts of life to take up the most space. If we have, then this is the perfect time to correct it. 

An old parable teaches us about three types of friends. The first don’t even accompany us on the final journey, the second accompanies us for part of the journey and then take their leave. The third stays with us the entire way.

The first friends are the possessions that we accumulate over a lifetime. They don’t even come to the funeral. They don’t accompany us on our final journey; they remain in place for whoever will own them next. The second friend is our family and social circle, who come to our funeral and accompany us on part of our final journey. They come only until the grave and at that crossroads must leave us.

It is only the third friend, the good deeds that we accumulate over the course of a lifetime that stay with us for the entire journey. When our souls ascend to heaven, these good deeds show themselves and advocate for us. We are judged on their merit and are rewarded solely for them.

Life in this world is temporal. Life in the world to come is eternal. The wise person invests in eternity.

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a respected writer, scholar and speaker, is the spiritual leader of Beth Tefilah congregation in London, Ontario. He is the author of Reaching for God: A Jewish Book on Self Help, and his new book, Mission Possible: Living With Higher Purpose will be released this spring and can be pre-ordered by emailing egurkow@gmail.com 


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