Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 3 November 2018 / 25 Heshvan 5779

Parshat Chayei Sara

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
ArtscrollLibrary

Quintessential Chessed

Eliezer is sent by Avraham on a most vital mission: to find a befitting wife for Yitzchak. Avraham is interested only in a daughter-in-law from his homeland and his family. Eliezer understands that he is to seek a woman with the same distinguished character that permeates Avraham’s home and life — a women who embodies loving-kindness.

Eliezer devises a test to assess which woman would be worthy of entering Avraham’s home and perpetuating his legacy. She who will offer Eliezer water and also offer his camels water will have proven herself deserving of that privilege and responsibility. Eliezer “the servant” approaches Rivka, asking her for a sip, and she responds, “Drink, my lord.” She treats him with more respect than he asks for himself, and is gracious and forthcoming in offering more than he requests.

Eliezer hopes that at this point she will also offer to give his camels to drink, as he had requested that this be the sign of the worthiness of a potential bride. But Rivka exceeds his expectations in her loving-kindness. She does not offer this right away. Instead she waits until Eliezer has fully quenched his thirst, and then offers to draw water for the camels.

By doing so, Rivka demonstrates one of the characteristic traits of a true gomel chessed. Had Rivka said immediately what she had in mind to do ultimately, she would have shown herself to be a chatterbox who boasts of her good deeds. Rather, only after Eliezer has finished drinking does she offer to draw water for the camels. She works tirelessly to refill the water trough again and again until all ten camels have drunk their fill — an exhausting task, considering how much camels can drink, and how wearying it must have been to draw each bucket of water. She does this all with great alacrity, showing no hesitation to exert herself for a chessed opportunity.

Earlier in the parsha we meet Efron, from whom Avraham buys a burial place for Sarah. Our Sages criticize Efron’s behavior as the exact opposite of Avraham’s: Avraham speaks minimally, offering his guests a piece of bread, and then exceeds expectations by providing them a freshly prepared gourmet meal. Efron, on the other hand, boasts of what he will do, and delivers only a fraction. Here, Rivka reveals that same quality of not boasting of good intentions, but overextending herself in her actions.

  • Sources: Commentary, Bereishet 24:17-20

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