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Parshas Vayera

Potential!

By Rabbi Label Lam

    And the angel of HASHEM called to him from heaven, and he said, “Avraham! Avraham!” and he said, “Here I am!” (Breishis 22:11)

“Avraham! Avraham!”- The repetition of the name expresses dearness! (Rashi)

How is the doubling of Avraham’s name an expression of endearment? Simple! That’s the way people express themselves for some reason when for example a child does something worthy of praise. “Dovi! Dovi! That’s terrific!” The question is, “Why do we repeat the name?” Is it only for emphasis? Maybe! The Zohar says that whenever a name in the Torah is repeated it means that the person has actualized their potential. How is that potentially helpful here? How does it work?

Every year I have a ritual based on a hope, a dream that has not come true as of yet, but I keep trying. In the early spring I buy a packet of sunflower seeds in the shiny packet, for planting not for eating. Then I plant them gingerly in the good earth and wait. The results are by now predictable. I must have a “black thumb”. A “green thumb” means that the things you plant grow nicely. With a “black thumb” even your plastic plants die. Well, they start pointing up a few inches out of the ground but then they bow their heads and fade. There’s always next year!

I’m waiting for the day- the year- I peer outside the picture window into the garden, and there it is, a six foot five inch tall sunflower plant, smiling, with a corona of yellow leaves. I’d glance at the plant and then at the seed packet with the attractive picture of the sunflower plant stapled onto the thin green stick, and shout, “Sunflower! Sunflower!” One declaration is about the picture on the packet and the other relates to the actual plant. What could have become- really became. The seed realized its potential before my very eyes!

The Arizal said that what knocks a person out of this world after 120 or anytime sooner is the picture of what a person could have become! They are shown their potential! The shock over the differential delivers a fatal blow. My own beloved grandmother repeated on her death bed over and over again two phrases, “potential, potential, potential!” and, “Diabolical, diabolical, diabolical!” She didn’t usually talk like that! It was a puzzle to me until I saw this idea from the Arizal.

More than thirty years ago I received both a stinging rebuke and a flattering compliment simultaneously. It was just after lunch-time in the Yeshiva and I was to learn with a South African buddy who was as much of a beginner at Talmud learning as I. Upon entering the study hall he arose from his seat as one should do to pay proper homage to a Talmud Scholar. I looked behind me to see if perhaps one of the Yeshivas Rebbeim wasn’t trailing behind. Immediately I let him know in forceful tones my objection to his irreverent behavior, “Zach, you can’t joke around like that!” To which he retorted, “Reb Label, I wasn’t standing up for you! I was standing up for your potential!” Zap! The good news is, “You have potential! The bad news is, you have potential!”

A follow-up on that story! Just a few years ago now, when I was in Israel I went to the Beit Cholim to visit a dear friend and student Nachman who was deathly ill. When I entered the nurse was helping to prop him up in a chair. It was hard to see him like that! I told him, “Nachman, you don’t have to sit up for me!” He mumbled with difficulty, “I’m sitting up for your potential!” (He was referring to the story above) His wife was shocked. Later she told me that he had not spoken for weeks. A month later we heard that he passed away! His wife told me that he did not speak again after that! The last word was “Potential!”


DvarTorah, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.


 

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