How Thoughtful Rabbi Josh Kahn


The centrality of Chesed in the story of Rivka and Eliezer is evident; however, a closer analysis of Rivka’s actions shows how her behavior went beyond the definition of kindness.  When Eliezer went to find a wife for Yitzchak, he asked Hashem to show him the right girl through a certain set of events.  In Eliezer’s plan, he would sit by the well and the girl who would offer water to both Eliezer and his camels would be the one meant for Yitzchak.  Certainly, this girl would demonstrate her sense of kindness through this sequence of events.  However, while kindness, the obvious motif in this story, could have been ascertained merely by Rivka offering water to Eliezer, there was a second underlying test that Rivka had to pass which involved the water she offered to the camels.  The Beit HaLevi believes that Eliezer was looking not only for Rivka’s Chesed, but also for her thoughtfulness and consideration.  How were these traits evident in the story at the well?

Rivka was faced with a series of decisions.  First, would she offer water to Eliezer, a complete stranger?  Then, after giving Eliezer water to drink, she had to decide what to do with a pitcher from which the stranger had drunk.  Maybe he had had a disease and his germs would now be in the leftover pitcher that she had worked so hard to fill.  If she brought the pitcher home, she would be endangering her family; if she dumped it out in front of Eliezer, she would probably hurt his feelings by showing that she didn’t want the water he had touched.  Eliezer wanted to see that the girl through whom the future of the Jewish people would be born could balance acting nicely for someone with sensitivity for his or her feelings.  Along with the sensitivity for the recipient of kindness, Rivka also demonstrated that she would not endanger her family just because she performed a Chesed for another person. Thus, she would not bring home this pitcher of water and jeopardize her family just to avoid hurting the feelings of this stranger.

The only way to balance all of these factors was to offer the remaining water to the camels.  Eliezer was concerned not with Rivka’s kindness to the camels, but rather for her ingenuity in decision making.  However, Rivka went one step further. She felt this thought process might have been too obvious to Eliezer and therefore offered to draw even more water for the camels.  By drawing this extra water, she demonstrated to Eliezer that she did not merely intend to dispose of his leftover water.  Rivka’s thoughtfulness demonstrated her special Midot.

Creativity and ingenuity are significant even in the realm of kindness.  Rabbi Paysach Krohn illustrates their importance in a story.  Yaakov was a very capable, young man, who learned in a Kollel in America.  He was having a hard time making ends meet.  Although he and his wife were determined to live on his small stipend from the Kollel and whatever money she could make, other members of the Kollel constantly tried unsuccessfully to help this couple.  Avraham, another member of the Kollel, had already gained a reputation for his constant thoughtfulness because of other things he had done, such as putting pens and pads of paper by each payphone should anyone on the phone need to write down any important information.  But, Avraham knew that this time, his plan would have to be much more creative to enable him to fool Yaakov.  Avraham called Yaakov and explained that he had just been to the grocery and the owner told him that he had received a shipment of fish that were packaged in damaged cans.  Although the owner had reassured Avraham that the fish inside were fine, he explained that he was giving a special discount because of the condition of the cans.  After telling Yaakov this creative tale, Avraham said that he was going to the grocery later that day to pick up some for himself.  He offered to buy a few cans for Yaakov. Yaakov knew this was a bargain, and it was even better because he wouldn’t need to go to the store.  Yaakov thankfully accepted.  True to his word, Avraham went to the grocery, where he bought the cans of fish.  He went home, took a hammer, and lightly dented the cans so Yaakov wouldn’t find out about the “scam.”  Avraham then brought the cans to Yaakov and sold them to him for a cheaper price.  Avraham’s creativity and ingenuity enabled him to trick Yaakov into being the beneficiary of Chesed.

Surely, Avraham’s ancestor, Rivka, would have been proud of his ability to use his cleverness to raise the Midah of Chesed to an even higher level.

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