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Living Torah by Rabbi Ari Enkin

Despite its title, Chayei Sara or “The Life of Sara” (Genesis 23:1 – 25:18), this week’s Torah portion opens and closes with death, as we learn first of Sara’s passing and finally of Abraham’s death. The middle of the portion, however, focuses on the fascinating episode related to the search for Isaac’s wife.

Abraham realized that at thirty-something, his son Isaac was ready to get married. As one might imagine, finding a wife for the man who would lead the Jewish people and beget the nation’s next leader was no small feat! As such, Abraham only entrusted this sacred task to his faithful servant Eliezer, whom he instructed to travel to Haran, the patriarch’s hometown. There, Eliezer was to find a wife for Isaac from among Abraham’s relatives.

On the way to Haran, Eliezer stopped to pray for Divine assistance in his mission. He beseeched God to provide signs to identify the proper wife for Isaac, praying “May it be that the girl to whom I will say, ‘give me water to drink from your pitcher,’ and she will respond, ‘drink, and I will also give drink to your camels’…she should be the one that You have assigned for Isaac…and I will know that you have done kindness.”

On the surface, Eliezer’s reason for requesting these specific signs isn’t apparent. Why did he specifically want to hear the words “drink, and I will also give drink to your camels”? Why were these utterances the Divine secret password indicating Isaac’s predestined wife? Why wouldn’t a different response, gesture, or greeting suffice?

The answer is that by uttering these words, the candidate-wife would reveal critical information about her personality and character traits. She would effectively demonstrate her capacity for goodness, kindness, and generosity. Back in those days, and sadly even in present times, offering assistance to complete strangers was uncommon, let alone offering to care for strangers’ animals as well.

On a deeper level, Rebecca’s generosity echoes Abraham’s immense kindness. When Abraham received the three visitors following his circumcision, he first invited them to sit under his tree so that they could enjoy immediate relief from the desert heat. He then offered them a light meal, in case they needed a quick pick-me-up. Only after these initial overtures did Abraham offer his guests a more elaborate meaty feast.

In proceeding in this manner, Abraham demonstrated that he knew guests don’t always want to be tied down to the their hosts for extended periods of time. Abraham thought to himself, perhaps these visitors can’t stay for long. By immediately offering them a lengthy meal, Abraham would have locked them into a potentially inconvenient stay. Abraham’s thoughtfulness in the way he extended kindness also represents a form of generosity. Abraham teaches us always to consider other people’s time.

The attributes Eliezer sought in his search for Isaac’s wife demonstrate for all time the refined character traits that define the Jewish people.

Click below to read more of my Torah articles about this week’s fascinating Torah portion:

1. Living Torah: Abraham Purchases Hebron

2. Marriage is Another Matter!

Shabbat Shalom from Israel!

Rabbi Ari Enkin