“May it be that when I say to a young woman, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’—let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.” — Genesis 24:14
The Torah portion for this week, Chayei Sarah, which means “the life of Sarah,” is from Genesis 23:1—25:18 and the Haftorah is from 1 Kings 1:1–31.
Abraham’s servant was sent on a very important mission. He had sworn to his master that he would find a suitable marriage partner for Isaac. What a daunting task! Where would he find the right woman? How would he know whether she was the right one? The very future of Abraham’s descendants depended upon the servant’s success.
So Abraham’s servant came up with a plan. He would go to a well near the place where Abraham’s relatives lived, and the first woman who offered him and his camels water would be Isaac’s wife. She would have proven that she is kind and appropriate for Abraham’s home.
The Jewish sages wonder why the servant’s test required that the worthy girl offer water to both him and his animals. What if Rebekah had only offered water to the servant, but not his camels? Would that make her a bad choice?
I once heard the following story from a psychiatrist. Early in his career, the psychiatrist used to take medical students around the psychiatric ward where he showed them classic textbook examples of psychoses in real life. One such example was a man who had been there for 52 years and who had never spoken in all that time. When he wasn’t eating or sleeping, he would stand in the corner of a room in an awkward position with his hands directed upward. No one had ever succeeded in getting the man to sit down.
One day, a student asked if he could take a shot at it. The student walked over to the patient, assumed the same contorted position and said, “I’ll stand here like this. You can go rest.” And for the first time in 52 years, the patient sat down! How did the young student do it? Everyone else had tried to help the man by thinking about what their needs would be. But the student was the first to think about what the patient’s needs might be. From that vantage point he discerned that the patient believed he was holding up the world and could only sit down if someone would hold it for him.
Abraham’s servant wasn’t looking for just any nice girl. He was looking for someone with an extraordinarily kind disposition. Many girls would relate to the servant’s need to drink. But it would be rare to find a girl who could put herself in his shoes and recognize his need for the animals to drink as well.
Let’s take a lesson from Rebekah. When considering others’ needs, let’s try to see the world from their perspective. Then we, too, will be worthy of being part of Abraham’s family.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President