Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Hayye Sarah 5762/ November 10, 2001

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
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Parashat Hayye Sarah 5762/ November 10, 2001

Charity Begins at Home
Prof. Yaakov Spiegel
Dept. of Talmud

One of the central themes of this week's reading is finding a mate for Isaac. Abraham sends "the senior servant of his household" to find a wife for his son, with the following instruction: "you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I dwell."

We further read about the way the servant carried out his task and the test that he devised to find a suitable wife for Isaac. R. Bahye b. R. Asher of Sargosa (Spain, circa 1290), wrote in his commentary on the Bible: "Therefore it became customary among the Jewish people to read this passage to the groom on the day of his wedding, to remind the people to be careful whom they marry."

In other words, this week's reading teaches the community – for the groom has already chosen his partner – what criteria the groom should use in selecting his mate.

We do not wish to discuss all the details that can be derived from this reading concerning the things to be weighed in choosing a spouse. We shall dwell on one term alone, which recurs as a leitmotif throughout the story of Abraham's servant: hesed – rendered in the JPS translation in a variety of words: kindness, grace, faithfulness.

When the servant arrives with his camels in Nahor's city, by the well, he prays in the following words: "grant me good fortune this day, and deal graciously (hesed) with my master Abraham" (Gen. 24:12). After specifying the test that he wishes to perform, he says: "Thereby shall I know that You have dealt graciously ('asita hesed) with my master" (v. 14). After his test reaches a successful conclusion, he thanks the Lord, saying: "Blessed be the Lord, the G-d of my master Abraham, who has not withheld His steadfast faithfulness (hasdo ve-amito) from my master." Also when he addresses Laban and Bethuel, requesting their permission to take Rebekah with him, he once again refers to hesed: "And now, if you mean to treat my master with true kindness" (v. 49).

The servants thus begins his speech with the word hesed and concludes with hesed. During the test itself, however, this word is not mentioned; but there was no need for it to be said. Rebekah's actions – drawing water from the well for the road-weary servant and continuing to draw water, without being requested, for his ten camels – bespeak an exceptional and innate sense of kindness, and her actions speak louder than a thousand words.

Rebekah was not tested in this particular virtue for naught. Kindness characterized Abraham's household, as we learned at the beginning of Parashat Va-Yera from the way he welcomed guests to his home. Rebekah, destined to become part of this household, must prove herself worthy of such. However, an act of kindness is more than the act itself; it is also the spirit in which the act is performed. When Abraham welcomed his guests, we notice how he rushed to greet them, how he was swift to cater to their needs: "Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, 'Quick, ...' Then Abraham ran to the herd, ... who hastened to prepare it" (Gen. 18:6-7). Rushing swiftly to perform an act of kindness is also prominent in the case of Rebekah: "She quickly lowered her jar ... Quickly emptying her jar into the trough, she ran back to the well to draw" (Gen. 24:18-20).

Rebekah was worth of joining Abraham's household not only by virtue of the kindness she showed, but also by the way in which she did it. From this we learn that one of the foundations of a Jewish home is acts of lovingkindness, hesed, which includes the will to show kindness, running after such deeds, and performing them with alacrity.