30 Oct 2015

Vayera 5776 – FOMO

Vayera 5776 – FOMO

“Don’t be afraid of missing opportunities.

Behind every failure is an opportunity somebody wishes they had missed.”

— Lily Tomlin

Human freedom is one of humanity’s great blessings but a blessing that we accept with great hesitation. One reason that we are sometimes hesitant when making a decision is because we know that every choice we make towards a particular outcome is also a choice to reject other opportunities. The anguish we feel in rejecting those opportunities may deter us from making choices. This challenge is expressed in Abraham’s life and his relationship with G-d.

Abraham loved G-d and understood that there was One ultimate source of all of existence, therefore, Abraham saw all things as connected. This made it difficult, philosophically, for Abraham to make certain decisions that would exclude options or obviate potential relationships. Our tradition is that Abraham’s tent was open to everyone on all sides[1]. Abraham’s most difficult challenges were those that required him to judge between possibilities, knowing that with every decision or choice he made it was at the expense of another opportunity.

Perashat Vayera brings this challenge of Abraham’s to the forefront. While Abraham rushes to perform great kindness to strangers at the opening of the parasha, the theme quickly turns to mishpat or judgement. It begins with Abraham having to address the possibility of losing an entire city due to its failed viability.

Abraham came close (to G-d) and said: ‘Will You really sweep away the innocent with the guilty?…It is profane for You to do a thing like this…the judge of all the earth — will He not do what is just?

It then touches him on a deeper level when he is faced with the decision to choose which relationships he will embrace and from which he will withdraw. His primary wife presents him with an agonising choice:

[Sarah] said to Abraham: ‘Drive out this slave-woman and her son, for the son of this slave-woman shall not share inheritance with my son, with Yitshak. The matter was exceedingly bad in Abraham’s eyes on account of his son. But G-d said to Abraham: ‘Do not let it be bad in your eyes concerning the lad and concerning your slave-woman; in all that Sarah says to you, hearken to her voice, for it is in Yitshak that seed will be called by your name. (21:9-12)

Abraham, the man of kindness, had to wrestle with being a man of judgment and discernment. Abraham had hoped that serving the G-d of all things would mean that he could love all things and embrace them almost indiscriminately. He found, however, that judgments and choices which required us to follow one path over another were an unavoidable aspect of life. For one who wishes to live the most meaningful life, choices are a necessity.

Abraham’s struggle is a familiar one for us. The ‘fear of missing out’ or FOMO as it is called nowadays, causes us great dissonance. In order to keep open all of our opportunities we often close ourselves off from engaging in actual undertakings. We often prefer to maintain the theoretical at the expense of the practical. We all have many possible lives that we can live and they all lay enticingly open before us. But theoretical lives are not actual lives and there is only one life that we can genuinely live. Actualising a life occurs only with choice, even if that choice means the rejection of a different path. And while we cannot live all of the lives that we wish to, it is the one life we choose that becomes inevitably precious beyond measure for it is ours, it is real and it is the only one we will ever have.


[1] Abot deRibbi Natan, 7; R. Obadia of Bartenura, ibid.