Rabbi Thomas A. Louchheim
High Moral Character
Abraham sends his servant, Eliezer, to find a wife for his son Isaac. He is to choose a woman of good character. How does he determine that Rebecca is the one? The Midrash helps us understand the character that was revealed to Abraham’s servant:
As Eliezer waited by the well, he saw a beautiful maiden approaching with a jug on her shoulder. She stopped next to a crying child, whose foot had been cut on a sharp stone. She washed the cut and bandaged it with her own veil. She comforted the child by saying the cut would soon heal. Then a woman who was nearly blind came to the well to draw water. Rebecca helped her carry the full pitcher home. When Rebecca returned, Eliezer asked her if she would give him a little water. She assented and then drew water for his camels. The other girls mocked her because she had served a stranger, but she ignored their taunts. Eliezer felt that she would make a very suitable wife for Isaac because she was kind as well as beautiful.
Malbim, who, in 1859 became the chief rabbi of Bucharest, teaches us how Rebecca could have acted had she not been a person of good character:
1. When Eliezer asked for some water, she could have said, "You are standing by the well, help yourself to water!" Rebecca did not give this answer.
2. There were others at the well at the same time. Rebecca could have said to Eliezer: "Why pick on me; I have already placed my jar on my shoulder. Ask someone who still has her jar in her hand." She did not respond that way.
3. Eliezer asked her to “lower your jar [from your shoulder] so that I may drink” (24:14). That would have required some effort and she would be justified in being annoyed and saying to Eliezer: "You get up and lower the jar yourself from my shoulder and drink, but don't bother me to do it myself." But she did not do this.
4. What happens next truly is a demonstration of her virtue. She says, “Drink and I will also water your camels” (24:14). She could have simply taken what was left in the jar and poured it into the trough to give the camels something to drink. But that is not what she does. In verse 19 she says, “I will also draw [more] water for your camels until they have finished (my emphasis) drinking.” By providing the camels with enough water, she also showed her kindness to animals; one of our important Jewish virtues.
Rebecca, aware of her surroundings, is able to relieve the sufferings of others without being asked. Her compassion and empathy allow her to respond with her performance of perform g’milut chasadim (acts of loving kindness) without hesitation or ego. Are we able to respond to this divine calling in the same manner as our ancestor, Rebecca?
This d’var Torah is adapted from teachings of Barbara Binden Kadden and Nehama Leibowitz, of blessed memory.