Chesed Compatibility

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Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

Parshat Chayei Sarah includes a seminal scene in the narrative of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Eliezer, Avraham Avinu's faithful servant, is sent on a mission to Padan Aram to find a wife for Yitzchak. As he approaches Padan Aram, Eliezer prays that Hashem grant him success in his mission. He devises a test that the right girl will pass if he is to ask her family for her hand in marriage to Yitzchak. Both the test and the results are well known: Eliezer will ask for some water. If the girl will offer to water the camels as well, he will know that this is the right girl and that Hashem has done chesed with him.

As Eliezer finishes his dialogue with Hashem, Rivkah comes out with her father's sheep. Eliezer, at a distance from the well, notices her, rushes toward her, and asks her for some water. She hurries to oblige, and then offers to water the camels as well. When all have been watered, Eliezer gifts her with several pieces of jewelry, asks her who she is, and asks if there is room in her father's home for them to spend the night. Again, the girl offers to feed and provide room for Eliezer himself, and also for the camels. At this point, Eliezer thanks Hashem not only for the chesed, but also for the emes, the truth that Hashem has done for him in completing this mission.

First, weren't there girls in Canaan that could become Yitzchak's wife? Avraham's relatives were idol worshipers just as were the people of Be'er Sheva. Further, while the obvious question our Sages deal with is how this particular test was an appropriate test in this shidduch search, there is also an additional question -- Eliezer asks for Hashem to bestow chesed on him, but in the end, he thanks Hashem for both chesed and emes. Why was chesed more important than, yirat shamayim/fear of Heaven, or some other attribute? What further insight did Eliezer gain that added the additional quality of truth to the chesed that Eliezer originally sought?

Rav Asher Weiss provides an answer to our first question. Rav Weiss notes that just as physical characteristics are inherited via physical DNA, there is an ephemeral DNA of character attributes that is also transmitted to offspring. This is not the case with learned beliefs. Therefore, it was not pantheism and idol worship that worried Avraham Avinu. That ideology could be unlearned. But innate character cannot be changed [although they are often hidden behind masks of culture and education]. The Canaanites were a cruel people, not merely idol worshipers. By sending Eliezer to his own hometown, Avraham sought to eliminate a shidduch that would introduce the attribute of cruelty into his bloodline.

In the opening words to Eliezer, Avraham warns Eliezer not to take a wife for Yitzchak from the daughters of Canaan אשר אנכי יושב בקרבו, among whom I dwell. Rabbi Ezrachi suggests a different translation: "Do not take a wife... from... Canaan within whom dwells [the attribute] of anochi/self/ego," from among those whose main focus is self.

What was Avraham's focus? Certainly he wanted to teach monotheism to the people. But even more important to him was self improvement. To this point, Pirkei AAvos emphasizes the three traits through which one can recognize a student of Avraham Avinu: "A good eye, a humble spirit, and a meek soul." Throughout the Torah, our leaders are depicted not so much for their brilliant intellect or for their leadership qualities. but for their character, their kindness and humility, notes Rabbi Bachaye. As Rebbetzin Smiles reminds us, your intellect is God's gift to you; your mitzvoth and character are your gift to God.

Rabbi Rivlin, citing the Lev Eliyahu, goes even further. Through a lev tov, a good heart, someone who is not yet in awe of Heaven may reach that level in his intellectual pursuit of ideas., but it starts with the good heart and a sense of humility. One may repent and do teshuvah for sins and unperformed mitzvoth, but how does one correct innate character flaws? That would only be possible with an accompanying sense of humility. Indeed, our first Beit Hamikdosh was destroyed for our transgressing the three cardinal sins. But that diaspora lasted only seventy years. Our current diaspora, the result of unwarranted hatred, of a lack of kindness to each other is ongoing after almost 2,000 years. Chesed is the root of all other positive attributes, and it stems from a good heart.

According to Rabbi Shimon Shkop z”tl, the entire purpose of our creation was to help and be of service to others. Torah that does not lead to chesed is empty Torah. We use the phrase Toras chesed [so recognizable to us from Aishet Chayil] because the entire Torah is based on chesed, on kindness and doing for others. Torah that does not lead to chesed is empty Torah. This was the essential trait that Eliezer saw in Avraham, and this is why his search would focus on that trait.

Avraham did not just do chesed when the opportunity presented itself to him. Avraham actively pursued chesed, it was the essence of his being, notes Ohel Moshe. The pain of not having guests was greater than the pain of convalescing from his bris. He went in search of guests when none appeared, and when he saw the three "guests" in the distance, he ran to them, and then personally served them their meals.

Eliezer saw in Rivkah this same desire to do chesed. Certainly, Eliezer's servants could at least help Rivkah water the camels. But she did all that work cheerfully, without complaint.

[Lest you think that this was a minor task, Rav Hirsch z”tl emphasizes that Rivkah let each camel drink its fill, a three day supply of water! Just giving each camel some water would have entailed ten trips, one jugful for each camel. CKS] This was what Eliezer marveled at. This is why Eliezer so readily understood that this was the girl Hashem had sent. For Rivkah, like Avraham, went beyond the strictly human desire to help another human being. This was a level of Imitateo Deo, of emulating God, writes Rabbi Nevenzahl.

Hashem created the world because He desired to give when there was no one and nothing to receive. By creating the world, Hashem could give continuously. When one is a true baal chesed, one who embodies chesed at its highest level, chesed emanates from the giver's need to give, not from any need of the receiver. Rivkah was inspired by this unique opportunity to give and keep giving. She kept running to the well and returning to Eliezer and his entourage outside the city, emptying her jug and running to refill it. This was an elite display of chesed, worthy of the family of Avraham.

The Novominsker Rebbe z”tl brings us proof of Avraham Avinu's mindset in practicing chesed. Hashem was well aware of this mindset. Hashem decided to tell Avraham about His intended destruction of Sodom because Hashem knew Avraham, "For he commands his children and his household after him that they keep the way of Hashem, doing charity and justice." For Avraham Avinu, kindness was not just the expected norm of a functioning society, but a way of emulating the "King Who loves tzedakah umishpat/charity and justice."

Interestingly, although there is a mitzvah to perform acts of chesed, we recite no blessing as we do for other mitzvoth. If there were, we would need to recite two blessings—to enter the covenant of Avraham Avinu, and to follow in Hashem's ways. In truth, teaches Rabbi Scheinerman, with every kindness we do, even when we naturally care for our own children, we must realize that we are performing an act of chesed and walking in God's ways.

Eliezer understood that Avraham's kindnesses were not the natural path of human society, but the path of God. In observing Rivkah's actions, he recognized that same commitment to chesed. He saw in her the same alacrity. As Avraham ran to greet the wayfarers and rushed to provide for all their needs, so did Rivkah run back and forth to fulfill every aspect of goodness she could for this stranger. Hence, Eliezer thanks Hashem not only for a girl with chesed, and emet, chesed, emanating from the truth of Torah.

In truth, all good deeds are meritorious. However, when one performs that good deed with the intention of performing a mitzvah, the deed is indeed [no pun intended] transformed into a mitzvah, writes Rabbi Garfinkel. When one realizes that possibility, one will actively look for opportunities to do acts of chesed.

However, one must be attentive and actively search for opportunities to do chesed. One must discern the full need. Although Eliezer asked only for a bit of water, Rivkah immediately undertook not only to fully quench Eliezer's personal thirst, but to water the camels as well, understanding instinctively that they must also be thirsty. writes Rabbi Wolbe z”tl. This anticipation and eagerness for chesed performance was the hallmark of Avraham himself.

Just as important as the act itself is the manner in which it is done, reminds us Rabbi Mintzberg z”tl in Ben Melech. Rivkah may be doing Eliezer a favor, but she still introduces her words with, "please," and undoubtedly, with a smile as well..

It is not necessarily by the great things people do that we should judge them. Rather, teaches L’tetcha Elyon, it is often the little things that have a ripple effect that show the true greatness of a person. In fact, Rabbi Shmulevitz would quip that he would rather hear small stories about great people that great stories about small people.

Rabbi Zev Leff, in discussing the first blessing in Shemoneh Esrai, notes that although we mention all three of our Patriarchs, we conclude with Avraham. While we may no longer have the merit of the Temple service of Yitzchak, and our Torah study, connected to Yaakov, may be weak, we will be redeemed for the sake of Avraham Avinu whose shield is the performance of chesed.

With the crisis and challenges in Israel today, Rebbetzin Smiles reminds us of the need to follow in the path Avraham Avinu set for us, the path of emulating our Creator through acts of chesed. There is, boruch Hashem, an outpouring of chesed from every corner of the Jewish world, both in Israel and outside it. Search for the opportunity where you can best help. Monetary, clothing, and supplies donations are always helpful. But volunteers are needed to organize, pack, ship, unpack and ship where necessary. Israelis and non Israelis with homes in Israel have opened their homes to the displaced. Parents and teenagers are organizing all kinds of activities for children and families evacuated to hotels. Find your own niche, and in the merit of this outpouring of chesed, may Hashem envelop Eretz Yisroel and our brethren with the shield of Avraham Avinu.

But we need to get back to our shidduch story. In searching for an appropriate match, the most important quality one needs to look for is positive character attributes, those that will complement each other and thereby be an eizer kinegdo, a helpmate opposite each other, explains Rabbi Rivlin. This means that often the best match is that of opposites that balance each other out.

This was the genius of the match between Yitzchak and Rivkah, explains the Shvilei Pinchas. While Avraham represented pure chesed, Yitzchak Avinu's main attribute was din, gevurah, strict adherence to justice. Yitzchak needed to balance that strictness with the practical application of chesed to produce the gloried balance of rachamim, mercy. It was Rivkah who understood that giving Esau all the material blessings would doom the spiritual Yaakov; Esau would never agree to support Yaakov. Therefore, she arranged for Yaakov to receive the material blessings and saved the world from destruction. The balance of din and chesed would produce the emes/truth of Yaakov.

Accepting a kindness is difficult. Doing someone a favor often creates a feeling of indebtedness in the receiver, especially if the giver refuses to accept anything resembling a thank you. To counter that feeling, Rabbi Lopiansky suggests you ask the receiver to do you a favor as well. That is a full chesed, for the receiver now retains his dignity. This was a further greatness of Rivkah. She graciously accepted the gifts Eliezer gave her so that he could feel he was also giving, not just receiving. This was a further chesed on Rivkah's part as it understood the perspective of a Yitzchak. Now Eliezer truly understood that Hashem helped him fulfill his mission with both chesed and emes.