Posts Tagged 'Chayai Sarah'

Test of Character: Camel and Champ

How do you know when you meet the one? In Chaye Sara, this week’s Torah portion, we learn about Abraham’s servant Eliezer’s mission to find a mate for Yitzhak. Laden with gifts, Eliezer goes to Charan. At the village well, Eliezer asks God for a sign. When the maidens come to the well, he will ask for some water to drink; the woman who will offer to give his camels to drink as well shall be the one destined for his master’s son. It seems as if the discovery of Rivka is a miracle. But was it?

We have to realize that the gifts Eliezer brought along to make the process smoother might have been the heart of the challenge. He needed to find a test that would ensure the the would-be-mate was not coming just for the gifts. Incentives can have an adverse impact on the desired outcomes. So the test itself had to prove motive commitment beyond fleeting avarice.

On this point I recall my first Shabbat as a Hillel Rabbi on campus. We had a huge Shabbat dinner for the first year students and their parents. In an wonderfully awkward interaction a father leaned over to tell his son to look around to find a mate. When the embarrassed son rebuffed his father’s urging, the father leaned back to impart some wisdom. He said in a loud voice, ” You know son, when you marry for money- it does not mean you do not need to work for it. ”

Eliezer needed to make sure that Yitzhak’s future wife was in it for the right reasons. So how did Eliezer know that this test would prove who was supposed to be the mate of choice?

The legendary UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” Rivka was a person of character. Being nice to the stranger might come with reward, but who was going to notice that she was nice to the camels? Wooden also said, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” The camel having just treked through the desert represents the voiceless in need. Rivka in her essence was more concerned with her character than her reputation.

All of this comes to explain why Eliezer would be interested in her, but why she would be interested? She was never into it for the riches, her motives were to be a good person. Abraham’s project of Judaism is a movement of character refinement. Rivka proves her commitment to this mission.

When I reflect on Rivka’s passing the test with the camel I have hope in Champ. Biden will be the first President who has a rescue dog in the White House. In the last four years we have learned that avarice and unchecked power is blinding. When it comes to character in leadership, it is not an important thing, it is everything.

We All Stood Together: Rivka and Revelation

This weekend the Bronfman Youth Fellowship in Israel is celebrating its 30th year. It is crazy to think that I did this program 27 years ago this summer. One of my memories from that summer was when Merle Feld a poet taught some of her poetry to the group. On of the poem’s “We All Stood Together” I still remember vividly. There in Jerusalem at the age of 15 we read:

My brother and I were at Sinai
He kept a journal
of what he saw
of what he heard
of what it all meant to him
I wish I had such a record
of what happened to me
It seems like every time I want to write
I can’t
I’m always holding a baby
one of my own
or one of my friend
always holding a baby
so my hands are never free
to write things down
And then
As time passes
the particulars
the hard data
the who what when where why
slip away from me
and all I’m left with is
the feeling
But feelings are just sounds
The vowel barking of a mute
my brother is so sure of what he heard
after all he’s got a record of it
consonant after consonant after consonant
If we remembered it together
we could recreate holy time
sparks flying

I was thinking about this poem specifically this Shabbat as we read Chaye Sarah, this week’s Torah portion. There we find Rivka giving water to Eliezer’s camels. There we read:

And the man was astonished at her, standing silent, [waiting] to know whether the Lord had caused his way to prosper or not. Now it came about, when the camels had finished drinking, [that] the man took a golden nose ring, weighing half [a shekel], and two bracelets for her hands, weighing ten gold [shekels]. ( Genesis 24:21-22)

Why did he give her braclets? And why two of them? And why specify ten units of gold? On these points Rashi said:

and two braceletsAn allusion to the two Tablets paired together. — [Gen. Rabbah (60:6), Targum Jonathan]

weighing ten goldAn allusion to the Ten Commandments [inscribed] on them. — [Gen. Rabbah 60:6]

This moment at the well was a moment when Rivka herself modeled for us the overlooked role of women at Sinai. This moment happened through acts of righteousness, but sadly the female contribution to revelation has been hidden in broad daylight. This images of Rivka and  Merle Feld  fill me with gratitude for the gifts of female voices to the world of Torah.

 


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