Parshat Chayei Sarah

Dvar Torah Chayei Sarah:
Learning Parshat Chayei Sarah in Jewish Day School, I have always particularly enjoyed reading about Eliezer’s quest to find a wife for Yitzchak, and his consequent selection of Rivka (partially because I share her name.) This year in Midrasha, I have had the opportunity to study Chayei Sarah, and have come across some insights on the Parsha I would like to share.

After arriving in Aram Naharaim, Elizer Stops to make a request to G-d:

“Oh God, Lord of my master Avraham, chance before me this day, and act favorably towards my master Avraham. Behold, I am standing at the water spring as the daughters of the city dwellers go out to draw water. If I say to one of the young women: ‘please tilt your jug of water so that I may drink’ and she replies: ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels,’ then she will be the one whom you have designated for your servant Yitzchak, and then I shall know that you have acted favorably towards my master.” (Bereishit 24:12-14)

Reading this passage, some commentators understand Eliezer’s request for a sign from G-d as a form of sorcery. Indeed, halacha prohibits us from interpreting arbitrary earthly occurrences as a sign from G-d, because by doing so we are ascribing mundane happenings divine influence. Consequently, in his Mishneh Torah, Rambam, interprets Eliezer’s actions as a form of divination and mandates such behavior is strictly prohibited.

Yet, on the other hand, we can also understand Eliezer’s conditions as a form of a character test, which sheds light on Rivka’s incredible trait of chessed. Rashi on pasuk 14, understands the exchange in that manner, explaining it is a test to determine whether the woman would perform acts of kindness and therefore be fit to enter the house of Avraham.
Another commentator, Malbim, expands on this Idea, and demonstrates how Eliezer’s simple condition that the woman reply “drink, and I will water your camels as well” was a true test of character. He explains that an ordinary person may have thought: why should I help this person standing by the well, he can draw water himself. However in her kindness, Rivka understood the possibility that the man might not be capable of drawing water for himself and thus certainly could not draw water for his camels. Hence her unrequited response “I will also draw for your camels”.

If we picture this scenario, one detail that stands out is that Rivka is alone in her charity. Undoubtedly, friends and neighbors watch her laboring for hours to assist a stranger but none offer to help. Perhaps, many laugh at her believing she is being exploited by this stranger. Despite the possibility of being exploited, Rivka judges the stranger favorably and assumes he is genuinely in need. She disregards the laughter and mockery of her peers and neighbors, driven by the will to do the right thing. One of the most remarkable aspects of Rivka’s chesed is that when she identifies the right thing, she does it.

I think Rivka’s resolve in this manner is something we should all aspire to. How often are we prepared to withstand mockery or peer pressure both blatant and subtle to pursue something we deem important whether it be chessed, mitzvoth, or Talmud Torah. This year in Israel, it may seem easy to devote oneself to avodat Hashem. However in preparation for times when one may be alone in their chessed or religious practice, it is critical to develop the resolve of Rivka.

Student Studying in Nishmat