Parshat Chayei Sarah

Torah Reading for Week of November 8-14, 2009

“What Really Matters”

by Rabbi Toba August
AJRCA Professor of Rabbinics

I was at a parents’ meeting a few years ago and noticed a friend sitting outside the group struggling to hold back her tears.

After I sat with her for awhile she told me why she was so upset. Without thinking, the parents were mostly bragging about their children’s accomplishments; the grades they received, the sports they excelled in, and the other activities which made the parents proud. This is what parents do. Yet inadvertently, these seemingly harmless remarks are like arrows to the hearts of parents whose children have special needs and will never excel in academics, sports or other group behaviors.

My friend looked at me and said with conviction, that she knows her daughter has the greatest trait of all. She has extraordinary kindness, empathy and a caring heart! “Why don’t parents brag about these inner qualities?” she asked.

I have never forgotten this interaction and am reminded of it as we study Chayei Sarah and listen to Eliezer’s words as he asks G-d to bless him on his mission to find a suitable wife for Isaac.

What traits would make a good match?

Before I remarried, I spent a lot of time with the personal ads. Do we remember these? Under ‘Men seeking women’ I remember that the following were the 5 most preferred traits: 1.Slim 2.Attractive 3.Intelligent 4.Independent 5.Wants to travel. (I remember these because I fit all the categories…(Hmm..)

What was missing? Very rarely were the internal qualities of kindness, patience, forgiveness, or being able to laugh, even mentioned even though they are the key elements needed for a successful relationship!

It is both unexpected and profound to read in the Torah the traits that Eliezer asked for. He did not even mention that the women should be good looking! Rather, as we know, he asks for a woman who will offer to give him water and also say she will water his 10 camels.

Some women might have told Eliezer to get himself some water, after all, he is standing right there by the well, or they would do the minimum and give the camels one round of drinks. However, Rebecca’s actions go beyond Eliezer’s request. She quickly lowers her jug and gives him water, then without being asked, says she will draw water for the camels “until they finish drinking.” Do we understand the implications of this action? How many times would Rebecca have to fill up her earthen jar to give 10 thirsty camels enough water to store in their humps? This is not an easy task and is time consuming and taxing for a young woman. Yet she does it quickly and with kindness.

This, then, is the trait that Eliezer was searching for, as he knew that a woman who cared about an elderly servant and the plight of thirsty camels would be a proper match for Isaac. Let us remember the words in the Talmud which say that the highest wisdom is kindness, and deeds of kindness are equal in weight to all the commandments. May we all find opportunities to perform acts of Chesed, of loving-kindness, often in our daily lives.

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