Chayei Sarah: Pure, Innocent Chesed
Rabbi Yonah Burr
Our Sages tell us that the stories of our forefathers are in a sense more beloved than the mitzvos themselves. Some mitzvos are only written once, while this story is repeated in its entirety twice.
The meforshim explain that learning about our forefathers gives us a window into greatness, showing us certain nuances and lessons that cannot always be given over explicitly.
If we follow the pesukim carefully, we see some subtle differences between what actually occurred and how Eliezer recounted it to Besual. For example, Eliezer related that he first asked Rivka about her name and family, and only after being satisfied that she was indeed the right girl did he give the gifts. In actuality, he had such faith and confidence in Hashem and his mission that he gave the gifts before confirming that she was the one. This is something better left unsaid. Besual and Lavan would never understand it anyway! In their uninitiated eyes, it would only undermine his credibility as a responsible agent of Avraham.
Rav Moshe Feinstein points out another difference: Eliezer, both in his petition to Hashem, and in his recounting of the events, said: גם אתה שתה, וגם גמלך אשאב Eliezer would ask the girl to give him to drink, and the script would call for her to respond “yes, I will give you to drink, and give your camels to drink as well”. What actually happened, however, was that Rivka only offered to water the camels after Eliezer drank! ותאמר שתה אדני ותמהר ותרד כדה על ידה ותשקהו, ותאמר גם לגמליך אשאב עד אם כלו לשתת “Drink my master, and she hurried to lower her jug and gave him to drink, then she said I will also draw water for your camels until they had enough to drink”.
Why did Eliezer expect her to offer to feed the camels right away, while Rivka only offered to assist the camels after Eliezer was taken care of? Rav Moshe explains that when someone is asked to perform an act of chessed, they sometimes feel inconvenienced. Or sense that the petitioner is self-conscious about needing a favor and may want to dispel that feeling. If someone timidly asks, would you please share your water so I may drink, there is a compulsion to respond “sure, and not only that, I will even draw water for your camels to drink!” in order to assuage any feeling of awkwardness, and to convey that we really are willing to help.
Rivka however exceeded all expectations- acts of kindness were so part of her nature- it came so easy, that it didn’t even occur to her that it was anything out of the ordinary. And as such, she did not see the need to offer more. Right now, it is time to draw water for Eliezer. If more is needed later, she will certainly deal with it in its due time. There was no need to exaggerate her generosity or offer anything with flair. To her it was simply the right thing to do.
Eliezer was astounded at this level of kindness and the greatness of the young girl that stood before him. But again, he did not dare to share this with her parents- for they would see nothing more than naïveté and perhaps reason to suggest that she was to young and innocent and not ready for marriage.
May we learn from our Avos and Imahos, and try to allow the lessons to become second nature to us!