Parshat Chayay Sarah describes Avraham’s endeavors to secure the appropriate wife for his son Yitzchak. Eliezer, Avraham’s loyal servant, is tasked with the responsibility and is given very specific directions. The proposed bride may not be from the nations of Cana’an; rather Eliezer is commanded to return to Avraham’s birthplace to seek for the right girl.
Maimonides describes Avraham as an innovator. When the whole world around him worshipped multiple idols, Avraham alone came to the realization that there was One God, Creator of all, and he worshipped Him alone.
Avraham was also a courageous leader and an effective teacher. He stood strong against the conventional beliefs of his age, smashed idols and taught the truth to anyone who would listen. Untold numbers because his followers and learned to worship one God.
One could think it strange that among all of his many followers, there was not one woman whom Avraham considered suitable to marry his son. It is even stranger that Avraham sent Eliezer back to his native area, to an idolatrous society! Why?
Eliezer knew Avraham perhaps better than anyone else. So he devised a plan by which he would recognize the chosen bride to be and prayed for God’s intervention.
So let it come to pass, that the young woman to whom I shall say: Let down your pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink; and she shall say: Drink, and I will give your camels drink also; she shall be the one that You have appointed for Your servant, for Yitzchak. Thereby shall I know that You have shown kindness unto my master.
Notice that Eliezer’s ‘test’ made no reference to whether or not the girl worshipped one God. Rather, his test was specifically focused on the prospective bride’s attitude towards kindness and charity. He knew well that Avraham’s primary concern would be the moral character of his future daughter-in-law.
Avraham believed – and Eliezer knew well – that truth can be taught and transmitted to an open-minded student. However, character, kindness, and generosity are not achieved through study and meditation alone. To a great degree, they are dependent on upbringing, example and training in the home. If Eliezer could identify a refined and virtuous woman in that far away land, it would be a simple matter for her to learn about the one true God if she didn’t already recognize Him. Though the community which Avraham had left was bound in idolatry, nevertheless, he knew that they were a kind and moral people, teaching their children the values and character traits which he desired for his son’s wife.
Eliezer’s test brings two things to our attention. First, the young woman he was looking for must respond positively to his request for water. Secondly, she must voluntarily offer to draw water for his camels as well. What does this behavior teach us about the nature of true kindness or chesed?
Kindness is not merely responding to the requests of another. True kindness requires that we look beyond the individual’s requests and discern the actual needs of the other person.
No sooner had Eliezer formulated his test, the young women began to appear, among them Rivkah. Eliezer asked her for water for himself. She immediately responded positively. However, this response, by itself, was not enough. Rivkah asked herself, “What else does this traveler need?” Seeing the camels, she immediately offered to provide water for them as well. She was not a self-absorbed person who didn’t notice what was going on around her. Not at all. She saw Eliezer, but she also noticed his camels and the rest of his entourage, and responded with kindness.
Rivkah’s behavior also provides a revealing insight into her family. When Eliezer asks about lodging, she immediately responded that there was room — and food and straw for the camels — at her father’s home. She was clearly a member of a family that proactively looked for the opportunity to offer assistance to others. Kindness in that family was not an occasional good deed provoked by direct confrontation with a need. We can understand that it was an ongoing behavior and value or Rivkah would not have responded as she did.
Rivkah possessed the sensitivity to look beyond the specific request of a person in need and consider what was left unsaid. We also learn from her that kindness goes much further than responding to a crisis or emergency. Kindness proactively seeks for ways to help others whenever and wherever the help is needed. In other words, kindness is a way of life, not just an occasional response to a need.
In Tune with Torah this week = developing kindness as a life value is critical to becoming people who demonstrate the truth that we are “made in the image and likeness of God” for God is supremely kind to all His creation. How are we doing in developing our own — and perhaps, our children’s — understanding and practice of kindness as a way of life?