The Torah reading this week begins with “These are the days of Sarah’s life..” or in some translations, “The lifetime of Sarah was…” (Ber. 23:1) Many commentators have opined that it seems strange that in the passage dealing with Sarah’s death, there should be this emphasis on the span of her life.
Not strange at all when we realize that the very limit that death puts on life makes every day, every year that we live something incredibly precious. Each morning that we wake up, alive and healthy, breathing and moving, is a day to be deeply thankful for. Alas, too often we take our days for granted. This is one of the reasons I love the first prayer we Jews say every morning when we awaken, the Modei Ani. Before we even get out of bed, our thoughts turn to Hashem and we say, “I give thanks to You, living and everlasting King, that You have restored my soul with mercy. Great is Your faithfulness.” You see, sleep is likened to death; a time when we are unconscious of what is around us. When we awake in the morning, how thankful we are that our sleep was temporary and not the sleep of the grave.
The psalmist cried out in Psalm 90 “Teach us to number our days correctly that we may acquire a heart of wisdom.” Of all the treasures we may succeed in acquiring in this life, none can compare with wisdom. When God said to Solomon, ‘Ask whatever you wish and I will give it to you,’ Solomon asked for wisdom to rule God’s people. That which gives true and lasting value to our daily life is not our material possessions but the choices, small and great, which we make to grow spiritually through living our day to day life.
Life is an awesome gift from God. It is not to be wasted, squandered or degraded. Every day is a gift. Every day counts. Every day you and I can make a difference in this world. It’s true.
Here’s another truth: Most if not all of the time, we have no idea what the most important and significant moments of our lives have been. Sometimes we don’t find out until we reach Olam Haba. Sometimes it becomes apparent — though much later — that something we thought minor was in fact deeply impacting to someone else and even changed their life.
I see this principle also demonstrated in this week’s parsha.
Avraham sends his servant, Eliezer, to find a wife for his son, Yitzhak. Armed with specific instructions from his master, Eliezer takes 10 camels and an appropriate number of servants from Avraham’s household and sets off on his mission. Arriving at a well just outside the city of Nahor,
Eliezer made the camels kneel down while he turned to God in prayer. Asking for compassion and direction from God Eliezer lays out a specific sign by which he will know which of the girls coming to the well to draw water is God’s choice to be Isaac’s wife.
Meanwhile, a very young girl named Rivkah (Rebecca), completely oblivious to the presence of this stranger and knowing nothing of his prayer, approaches to draw water from the spring, something she routinely did. There was nothing unusual or special about it, as far as she was concerned.
Well brought up in the ways of middle Eastern hospitality, when this stranger runs up to her and asks if he might have a drink, she immediately gives him a drink. After he has been satisfied, she then says, “And I will draw water for your camels as well.”
This is no small thing! Do you know that thirsty camels traveling through the desert, upon reaching an oasis, can easily drink up to 25 gallons of water in ten minutes? And then keep drinking more! And there were 10 of these creatures lined up!! It is conceivable that Rivkah could have drawn as much as 400 gallons of water from the spring before the camels finished slaking their thirst.
So let’s be ‘real’ for a moment. Put yourself into the account. You are lugging heavy jugs of water back and forth, back and forth for a considerable amount of time. The desert dust is clinging to your sweaty body and face and your hair is by now disheveled. Your arms ache and still the camels keep drinking.
Do you really think this was a “great supernatural experience” for Rivkah??? Hardly.
Did she think to herself, ‘Wow, this is awesome – I’m doing something critically important for the future of all humanity!” as she wiped a grimy hand across her forehead, leaving dirt streaks on her young face? No way!
Yet, my friends, this WAS one of the MOST IMPORTANT MOMENTS of her entire life! It established her destiny; it ushered her into a position of leadership in Avraham’s calling. It opened the door for her to be one of our revered Matriarchs!
All because she was willing to show kindness, to the point of exhaustion, towards a stranger.
In Tune with Torah this week = we are singularly unequipped to accurately discern the value of each act of kindness. There’s a reason why. Our responsibility is to DO acts of kindness at every opportunity. It’s is God’s responsibility to determine their value.