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Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Friday, 14 December, 2018 - 10:51 am

When I was a kid, I begged my father to take me to a baseball game. I nagged and badgered like only a little boy can. He had absolutely no interest in baseball, and he probably dreaded the idea of spending four boring hours at Shea stadium, but he took me anyway.

People sitting near us may have thought this bearded Rabbi was an interested fan. But I knew that was the furthest thing from the truth. He was sitting at Shea for one – and only one - reason: To make me happy. Tom Seaver was but a piece of my father’s end game: Making his son happy.

His presence at the ballgame wasn’t what it appeared to be. Appearances can be deceiving, and sometimes that’s a good thing.

‘Deceptive’ is a negative word; ‘misleading’ doesn’t sound kosher either. But how do you describe an exercise which appears to be self-indulgent, but is actually being pursued for a higher purpose?

Deceptively meaningful? Meaningfully deceptive?

Here’s a more common example: You see someone eating a tantalizing meal, and assume it’s in the pursuit of self-gratification. What if she simply wants to be healthy, so that she can actualize her Higher purpose by leading a meaningful life? The food happens to be great, but that wasn’t the primary point.

What about someone avidly pursuing his business, who actually places a high priority on bringing quality to his customers’ lives? And wants to earn money to support his community through his take-home revenue?

These individuals may look like they’re serving themselves, but their intent reflects a strong other-centered and G-d-centered ingredient.

Life is full of these opportunities to pursue exercises which have a meaningful essence, even though they look shallow on the outside.

We’re not created to be angels, and we’re not supposed to be sitting in prayer all day. Our purpose includes engaging the material world, whether it’s on Main Street or Wall Street. We need to pursue human endeavors, but the key lies in the intent of our pursuit. Are we conscious of our Higher Purpose? Do we guide ourselves by a Higher Code? If the answer is yes, then the pursuit– notwithstanding its appearance – is very much Divine.

As a people, we are known by the name of our Patriarch ‘Yaakov’ (Jacob). Linguistically, the word Yaakov connotes ‘deceptiveness’. Not a pretty thought. At least on its face.

But Yaakov is actually a name that shouts our mission and calls us to action:

Engage the world, the Torah tells us. You may appear to be pursuing self, but keep your priorities at a high level, and you’ll actually be pursuing G-dliness.

Sometimes it’s about the relationship not the ballgame. And that’s up to us.

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