Rivkah’s Great Middah by Eli Ginsberg


Parashat Chayei Sarah relates the story of Eliezer traveling to find a suitable wife for Yitzchak. Avraham tells Eliezer that a suitable wife will be a girl who offers Eliezer water for him and his camels. When Eliezer eventually finds Rivkah, she offers him and his camels water just like Avraham had said. After she gives Eliezer the water but before spilling it out, Rivkah announces, “Gam LiGmalecha Esh’av Ad Im Kilu LiShtot,” “I will also draw for your camels, until they will have finished drinking” (BeReishit 24:19). Why is it necessary for Rivkah to announce her intentions before doing them? Why does she make the point of saying that she is about to draw water for the camels before spilling out the used jug in preparation of refilling it for the camels? Wouldn’t Eliezer see what her intentions are momentarily when Rivkah refills the jug for the camels?

The answer to this question underscores Rivkah’s character and why she is chosen to be Yitzchak’s wife, one of the founding mothers of the Bnei Yisrael. Rivkah doesn’t want to bring Eliezer any discomfort. She is aware that spilling out a jug that was just drunk from is disgraceful. She is afraid that Eliezer might think the reason she is spilling it out is to insult and offend him. Therefore, Rivkah tells him that the reason she is spilling out the water is to prepare to feed the camels, not to insult him.

But the question still remains. Even if Eliezer would be offended, he would notice a moment later Rivkah filling up the jug for his camels and he would realize that the reason she spilled out the water had nothing to do with insulting him. Even if Rivkah is trying to save Eliezer from being offended, why is this necessary? Won’t the offense be fleeting and irrelevant? To answer these questions, we must look at Rivkah’s character. She is a kind and caring person, one who is willing to go out of her way to draw water for a stranger without even being asked. A truly kind person would not want someone to suffer at all, not even for a moment. Rivkah therefore announces her intentions before spilling out the water, in order to spare Eliezer from even a moment of embarrassment.

There are numerous stories of famous rabbis who would go to drastic measures in order to not embarrass someone. One such story is told about Rav Akiva Eiger. The story goes that he once had a guest over for Shabbat. His guest accidentally knocked over his glass of red wine. Immediately, Rav Akiva Eiger knocked over his own glass of wine so as to save his guest from feeling embarrassed. Rav Akiva Eiger was following in the footsteps of Rivkah Imeinu when he performed this easy but noble act.

It is crucial to try to help prevent others from feeling embarrassed whenever we can. Tosafot (Sotah 10b s.v. Noach), in fact, rule that one must die rather than embarrass someone in public. By ruling this way, Tosafot are equating embarrassment with death. We must always keep in mind that Rivkah was chosen to be the mother of the entire Bnei Yisrael because of her actions by the well – her decision to save Eliezer from the moment of embarrassment may have been the deciding factor. We should learn from Rivkah and take every opportunity to prevent our friends from embarrassment whenever we can. With this, may we all strive to rise to the level of Rivkah Imeinu and seek to eliminate embarrassment and hard feelings between people one case at a time.

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