Torah Study

Rivkah Imeinu – Kindness with Wisdom

Avraham Avinu sends his faithful servant Eliezer to find a suitable wife for his righteous son, Yitzchak Avinu. When Eliezer arrives at his destination, he prays to HaShem to send him a sign enabling him to determine who should be Yitzchak’s wife. He asks, “Let it be that the maiden to whom I shall say, ‘Please tip over your jug, so I may drink,’ and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will even water your camels,’ her have You designated for Your servant, for Yitzchak, and may I know through her that You have done kindness with my master.”[1]

The commentaries explain that Eliezer did not merely suggest a random sign; rather, he wanted to ascertain that the future matriarch would have a highly developed sense of kindness. They see from the specificity of his prayer that it was not sufficient that she merely respond to his request for water; he planned to ask for water only for himself, hoping she would volunteer to water the camels as well. Seforno points out that he wanted her to delve beyond his verbal request, perceive that his true needs were far greater, and act accordingly.[2]

In a similar vein, Malbim notes that it was not enough for Rivkah to be kindhearted; Eliezer also wanted her to demonstrate the wisdom necessary to best serve his needs. Furthermore, says Malbim, Eliezer asked that she tip the jug for him as opposed to taking it from her and drinking himself. He hoped that rather than resenting his apparent laziness, she would judge him favorably, such as by assuming he must have pain in his hands. Accordingly, she would realize that if he lacked the strength to hold the jug himself, surely he could not draw water for the camels. Consequently, she would water all ten camels herself! When she successfully passed these tests, Eliezer saw that he had found an appropriate match for Yitzchak.[3]

We learn from here that optimal chesed requires wisdom. One need not have an exceedingly high IQ, just an awareness of those around him, so he can perceive their needs and provide for them without even being asked.

The Beis HaLevi derives a similar point from Megillas Esther’s description of Mordechai as “seeking good for his people.”[4] Surely all Torah leaders seek good for the people, so what was unique about Mordechai? The Beis HaLevi explains that Mordechai would not wait until people came to him seeking assistance. Rather, he would try to discern their needs and how he could help.[5]

The Beis HaLevi himself exemplified the trait of understanding people's unverbalized needs. One Seder night, he was asked if it was permissible to use milk for the four cups. He replied with a generous amount of wine and meat. The Beis HaLevi realized that the questioner lacked wine for the four cups. Moreover, since he planned to drink milk, he evidently had no meat. So the Beis HaLevi acted accordingly and provided for these unarticulated needs!

Throughout our daily lives, we encounter people who require assistance but are too embarrassed to request it. Thus, we must emulate Rivkah and figure out their needs. For example, a person was found to be living in dire poverty – how was it discovered? A friend had lent him twenty-five shekalim some weeks earlier and casually asked if his friend could repay it. The borrower’s face turned white at the sheer impossibility of repayment. This reaction alerted his friend, and he discovered that this man couldn’t afford even basic necessities. Sometimes a facial expression or casual comment indicates a certain need. By becoming aware of such hints, we greatly increase our capacity for chesed.

 

Notes and Sources

[1] Bereishis 24:14.

[2] Seforno ad loc.

[3] Malbim ad loc. Also see Ohr HaChaim and Beis HaLevi for more about the great wisdom Rivkah demonstrated in this story.

[4] Esther 10:3.

[5] Quoted in Motzei Shalal Rav, “Purim,” p. 246.

From the book “Beacons of Light”

 

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