Friday, 29 October, 2021 - 1:11 pm

A little girl was punished for some act of disobedience. Her mom and dad decide that her punishment will be for her to eat dinner alone in the corner of the dining table, while the rest of them would sit on the other side of the table.

As they sat down to eat that night the family paid no attention to her until they heard her pray. She was actually paraphrasing the famous Psalm chapter 23:

“I thank You, Lord, for preparing a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”

In this week’s portion, Chayei Sara tells the story of how Abraham has sent his servant Eliezer to find a wife for his son Isaac.

He goes to the city of Charan. Arriving at the town's well, he proposes a test: the woman who comes to draw water, offers some to the traveler, and in addition gives water to his camels will be the one chosen by G-d for his master's son.

Was the test permitted? Jewish law forbids relying on "omens." It is seen as a form of magic, superstition, and paganism. A classic example would be, “A deer ran in front of me today; it is a bad omen. I am not leaving the house today.” Was this test not dangerously close to pagan practice?

 The Maharal explains that Eliezer's conduct was legitimate; he sought not an omen but a sign of the woman's character. His test was not one of superstition, but of logic.

Eliezer is on a mission to choose the woman who, like Sarah before her, would be trailblazers of a new nation, a new path in the jungle of history. She and her husband, Issac, would need to continue the Monotheistic revolution Abraham began, embracing a life of moral dedication to G-d and humanity. Does this simple test of giving water to a stranger pass the mark?

In truth, as we delve into the story, we shall discover that Eliezer’s “character test” was intricate and subtle.

Yet this story is a notable exception. The Torah notifies us in strange detail that Abraham’s servant traveled by camel. Who cares how he traveled? But not only that: we are told that he took ten camels with him on the journey!

Then, the Torah mentions twice that the well was not right near the trough from where the camels drank; close enough, but Rebecca still needed to run from one to the other.

In addition, the Torah makes sure to mention that to draw water from the well one needed to descend and then ascend. And if that is not enough, the Torah states three times that all of the camels of Abraham’s servant drank to their full satisfaction. Not once, but three times!

Yet, when we examine all of these details together, we get the full picture.

Absolute, Pure, and Unadulterated Kindness.

Abraham’s servant stands at a well, outside of the town. At a time, when you could not open the sink in your kitchen to get water, people would walk daily to the well to obtain water. He’s waiting for the young women arriving to draw water from the well, in to bring back the water to their homes, for drinking bathing, washing, etc.

Young Rebecca arrives, she goes down into the well, fills her pitcher, comes up, and begins to walk home. He approaches her and asks if he can sip some water from her pitcher. What would I do?

I might have said, “Here is the well, why don’t you draw water for yourself from the well?”

But what did Rebecca do? To quote the Torah:

“She said, ‘Drink, my lord.’ And she hastened and lowered her pitcher to her hand, and she gave him to drink.”

Watering the Camels.

If that was not enough, the story continues:

“And she finished giving him to drink, and she said, ‘I will also draw for your camels until they will have finished drinking.’"

What is more, as the Torah states, Eliezer came with other men. She could have told him to ask one of his men to do the work. Instead, “she said, ‘I will also draw for your camels until they will have finished drinking.’"

And what happens next?

“And she hastened, and she emptied her pitcher into the trough, and she ran again to the well to draw water, and she drew for all his camels.”

Here we must recall the biology of the camel, unique to all other mammals.

G-d has given the camel that strange hump for a reason. These bulges are filled with fat. That store of fat is like a spare tank of gasoline in your car trunk. When food and water become scarce, the camel extracts energy from that mound of fat. In fact, the longer a camel goes without eating or drinking, the more visibly deflated its hump becomes. But give it adequate water and food, and camel humps plump up in a matter of days.

A mother and a baby camel were lying around, and suddenly the baby camel asked, “Mother, may I ask you some questions?”

Mother said, “Sure! Why son, is there something bothering you?” Baby said, “Why do camels have humps?”

Mother said, “Well son, we are desert animals, we need the humps to store fat so we can survive weeks without water”.

Baby said, “Okay, why are our legs long, and our feet rounded?”

Mother said, “Son, obviously they are meant for walking in the desert. You know with these legs we can move around the desert better than anyone does!”

Baby said, “Okay, then why are our eyelashes so long? Sometimes it bothers my sight”.

Mother with pride said, “My son, those long thick eyelashes are your protective cover. They help to protect your eyes from the desert sand and wind”.

Baby, after thinking said, “I see. So the hump is to store water when we are in the desert, the legs are for walking through the desert and these eyelashes protect my eyes from the desert. Then what in heaven’s name are we doing here in the Bronx Zoo locked up in a cage?!”

We can, at last, appreciate what Rebecca did here. This was not just kindness; this was kindness on steroids—it was an extraordinary and astounding display of generosity and benevolence. Ten camels were given to drink. But not just given to drink: Rebecca said, "I will also draw for your camels until they will have finished drinking."

We can now appreciate the conclusion of the story:

“And the man was astonished at her, standing silent, waiting to know whether the Lord had caused his way to succeeding or not.” He was not just impressed; he was astonished; he was blown away. Who observes such a level of kindness?! Such a generous, undiluted form of giving?

Why did Rebecca not ask Eliezer or his men to fill the trough with her pitcher of water?

Perhaps she observed that Eliezer and his escorts were too exhausted from a long voyage. Perhaps they looked weak, hungry, and drained.

And it was at this moment that Abraham’s servant saw all he needed to see. He saw a heart so full of grace, love, affection, kindness, generosity, giving, open-handedness, and big-heartedness. When was the last time he saw such kindness? By his master Abraham. We all recall from last week’s portion, how Abraham did not only invite three guests to his home but that he “ran to them.” And then “he ran to the ox, and hastened to prepare it.” This was the kindness of a different caliber.

Rebecca was full of self-esteem. She knew herself and her abilities. But Rebecca was destined to become the mother of Klal Yisrael, of the Jewish people. And the foundation of the Jewish people is pure, unadulterated, and unlimited kindness and love. Rebecca felt that the greatest gift in life is to help others. Without expectation, without calculation, without meditations.

Rebecca’s behavior represents what the Mishnah says:

Akavia, one of the great sages of his day, was in dispute with the Sages regarding four areas of Jewish law. It was one man against the entire Rabbinic world. They said to him, "Akavia, withdraw these four things in which you are in dispute, and we will promote you to be the Av Bait Din, head of the Rabbinical court." He said to them, "It is better for me to be called a fool all my life than I should become a wicked person in the presence of the Almighty even for one hour. Let no one say: 'He withdrew his opinions for the sake of getting power'."

Let me be perceived as a fool, but not wicked!

It is because of “fools” like this that the world stands!

Let me share with you a story.

Dariush Massachi — a Persian Jew — was born in Shiraz in 1926. At the time, Shiraz had a strong Jewish community and Jews enjoyed economic and religious freedom.

In 1951, Dariush was introduced to Pari Zahabian, his future wife.

Pari came from a family of goldsmiths.

They married and over the next 20 years were blessed with eight children. Dariush worked hard as a goldsmith and with the help of Hashem was able to provide for his family.

Everything changed with the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

As he spoke only Farsi and was trained only as a goldsmith, Dariush was hesitant to move his family from Shiraz. But finally, in the early 1990s, Dariush realized that there was no future for his family in Iran. The ability to freely practice Judaism was worth more than all the gold in the world to Dariush.

So in early 1991, Dariush liquidated all of his assets. And then, in the total darkness of a moonless night, Dariush and his family climbed into an unmarked station wagon and, after paying off many officials, crossed the border into Turkey and from there made their way to the United States. They settled in New Jersey and went about raising a Torah family.

Dariush was 65 years old when he fled Iran. In America, he spent a good part of his day learning Torah and he was thrilled to be able to guarantee his children an authentic Jewish life. Pari mastered English and eventually became a medical assistant.

A few years ago, in 2017, Dariush, already past his 91st birthday, was required to undergo a serious medical procedure in the hospital.

Due to his age, the procedure required full anesthesia, and the family was worried about their revered husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.

On the day of the procedure, the family sat in the waiting room saying Tehillim. More remarkably, without ever discussing it with each other or with Dariush, every single one of them — including 81-year-old Pari — independently decided to fast and pray until they knew all was well.

The procedure began early in the morning. Finally, in the afternoon, Dariush was wheeled out of the OR and into recovery. As soon as he woke up, Dariush attempted to communicate with the nurse.

In his semiconscious state, and with his broken English, the nurse was having trouble understanding him.

Listening carefully, she heard him say, “Lunch… I need lunch.”

The nurse could not understand why this man who had just undergone a procedure and was still groggy would be thinking of lunch; wouldn’t he want to see his family first?

“I’m sorry, Mr. Massachi, but you are not permitted to eat for another six hours.”

Again Dariush insisted, “Lunch, please, bring me lunch.”

As the nurse began to explain again, Dariush noticed his wife had entered the recovery room.

“Lunch, please bring my wife lunch… she has not eaten the whole day…”

“How do you know your wife hasn’t eaten?”

Dariush looked at his wife before answering the nurse’s question, and he thought about the almost 70 years they’d lived together, and all the hardships endured together.

Then he quietly responded, “When you have loved and lived with someone as long as I have, you just know… words are no longer needed. She has not eaten. Please bring her lunch.”

As Pari gazed at her husband, the nurse went to get lunch.

Dariush was right. No more words were needed.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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