The H2O Predicament by Ilan Tokayer


According to many, the primary purpose of Sefer Bereishit is to teach us how to act morally towards fellow man.  In Parshat Chayei Sarah, there is one episode from which we can learn two important principles of how people should act towards one another.

When Eliezer asks Hashem for a sign of the girl to marry Yitzchak, he asks Hashem that she should not only give water to himself, but rather his camels as well.  Why is this the specific sign that Eliezer asked for?

The Bait Halevi, Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik of Brisk, explains that Eliezer was looking for a girl with not only kindness and good Midot, but the Sechel to know how to use her good Midot as well.  Rivka came to the well and encountered Eliezer, whereupon Eliezer, a total stranger, asked Rivka for water.  Eliezer, a traveler coming from a long journey, could be sick and thereby contaminate the entire jug of water that he drank from.  This leaves the girl in a difficult situation.  She could not take the jug home and feed her family the possibly contaminated water, but on the other hand, she could not spill out the remainder of the water in the jug, thereby embarrassing Eliezer.  Eliezer realized this and therefore asked that the criteria for Hashem’s sign be that she offers the remaining water to Eliezer's camels, eliminating both problems.  The Bait Halevi adds that she even offered to repeatedly draw more water until the camels were fully satisfied.

There is, however, one more apparent problem with this episode.  We are told (24:19) that Rivka serves Eliezer and then asks to serve Eliezer’s camels.  This raises an obvious contradiction with a famous ruling of Chazal, as Rav Yehuda says in Rav’s name (Berachot 40a, Gittin 62) that a person may not eat before he sees that his animals have food.  We learn this from the placement of “ונתתי עשב בשדך לבהמתך” before “ואכלת ושבעת” in the Parsha of “והיה אם שמוע.”  (Indeed, this rule is exemplified in this week’s Parsha where it says “ויבא האיש הביתה...ויתן תבו ומספוא לגמלים,” that Eliezer brought the camels food as soon as he arrived at Betuel’s house, even before he himself ate after a long journey.)  How did Rivka do the right thing by giving Eliezer to drink before the camels?  Once again Rivka did the right thing by using her Sechel.  Knowing that camels can go for over a week without thirst, but man becomes thirsty after only a few hours, especially when traveling through the hot Middle Easetern sun, she offered Eliezer water before the camels.

We can learn so much from our Avot and Imahot, especially how to act with good Midot.  It is important for everybody to approach every situation with the mentality of Rivka Imenu, and be able to take all factors into account while making a decision and act with both good Midot and Sechel.

נעשה ונשמע by Dr. Joel M. Berman

The “Kol” Factor by Nachi Friedman