Avraham’s loyal servant, Eliezer, arrives in Aram Naharaim in search of a wife for Yitzchak. He prays to God to help him find a suitable wife for Yitzchak. He even asks Hashem for a sign, requesting that the right candidate treat him with great kindness.1 The commentaries note that Eliezer wanted Yitzchak’s wife to excel in kindness. Why was this attribute so important?2

The Maharal provides us with the key to answering this question.3 After Rivkah proves herself fitting for Yitzchak, Eliezer showers her with gifts: “a golden nose ring, its weight a beka, and two bracelets for her arms, ten gold shekels their weight.”4 Rashi reveals the depths of these gifts. The beka alluded to the future mitzvah of giving half a shekel (machatzit hashekel), in which the Torah instructs the Jewish people to give “a beka per head,”5 a beka being half the weight of a shekel. The two bracelets alluded to the two tablets given at Sinai, and the ten gold shekels hinted at the Ten Commandments. The Maharal explains that Eliezer was alluding to the three pillars of the world: Torah, service of G-d, and kindness.6 The beka represented kindness, because the mitzvah of giving half a shekel involves giving. The nose ring suggested the pleasant smell of the sacrifices with which we serve God in the Temple.7 And the two bracelets/tablets of course referred to Torah.

Eliezer was hinting to Rivkah, the Maharal continues, that since she excelled in one of the three pillars, kindness (chesed), she would also merit the other two. Her connection to service of God would be through marriage to Yitzchak, who epitomized that trait, and her connection to Torah would be through her son, Jacob, who represents Torah. The Maharal explains that kindness is the foundation of all other virtues. Accordingly, by excelling in this one pillar, Rivkah merited them all. We now understand why kindness was so important to Eliezer. He recognized it as the root of all goodness, so Yitzchak’s wife had to abound in it. The Maharal makes a similar point in Lech Lecha, where God promises that Avraham’s name will conclude the first blessing in the Shemoneh Esrei.8 Why Avraham rather than Yitzchak or Yaakov? The Maharal explains that Avraham’s trait of chesed encompasses the traits of Yitzchak and Yaakov.9

The idea that kindness is the root of all other virtues is strongly supported by the Gemara in which a prospective convert asks Hillel to teach him the Torah “on one foot.”10 Hillel answers him, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your friend. This is the entire Torah. The rest is commentary.”11 The commentaries understand that Hillel was teaching this non-Jew the mitzvah of “love your neighbor as yourself,”12 which encompasses all the interpersonal Mitzvot. Yet how did this precept encapsulate all the other Mitzvot, those between us and Hashem?13 The Chazon Ish explains that Hillel was teaching the convert a profound lesson. A self-centered person is locked in his own way of thinking and viewing the world. He cannot relate to others’ views, and he does not even try. Such a person cannot live the Torah. One who cannot relate even to those around him cannot truly relate to Hashem. Hillel was impressing upon the non-Jew that only by stepping out of one’s selfish world can he begin to accept the Torah.14

The Chazon Ish’s explanation helps us understand how kindness lies at the root of seeing the truth of the Torah. A kind person can step out of his own world and appreciate the needs and thoughts of others. Therefore, he can also step out of his own biases and shift his outlook to conform with that of the Torah. We see this idea in the Torah’s focus on Avraham’s chesed. Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits points out that the Sages portray Avraham’s incredible thirst for truth, but the Torah mentions only his kindness. For Avraham’s ability to find the truth sprang from his chesed. His very selflessness brought him to the truth. Since his chesed lay at the root of his greatness, the Torah stressed that aspect of his personality as opposed to the intellectual honesty that came as a result. Yitzchak’s inner strength and service of G-d also stemmed from chesed. His self-sacrifice emanated from his desire to do God’s will, to “give” to Him.

Even God’s judgment arises out of His kindness. God created a world of judgment—in which we have to measure up—lest we receive His countless gifts to us as “bread of shame,” a “free lunch” we do not deserve. A person feels far less satisfaction when he receives something without having worked for it. Only by earning it through his own efforts does he really enjoy it. Thus, even God’s judgment derives from His desire to bestow chesed on his creations.

We have seen many sources indicating that kindness is the essence of goodness. This is why Eliezer focused on finding this trait in Yitzchak’s wife. In a similar vein, one renowned scholar recalled that when his daughters were dating, he would often be told about the brilliance of their prospective husbands. He would respond that their intellect was far less important to him than how they would treat his daughters.

Chesed is essential in all relationships, especially marriage. By working on giving, a person will immeasurably enhance his marriage. If one remains ensconced in his own world, he will be unable to understand and meet his spouse’s needs. This insularity seems to plague many marriages. In contrast, when one strives to relate to his spouse, their bonds will only strengthen.

May we all merit marriages filled with kindness.

NOTES

  1. See Bereishit, 24:12–15. For a detailed description of the great chesed displayed by Rivkah, see the essay “Chesed and Chochmah” in my book The Guiding Light (Southfield, Mich.: Targum, 2009)..
  2. Some say Eliezer sought a bride whose chesed would balance Yitzchak’s strength. This essay offers a different approach.
  3. See Gur Aryeh on Bereishit 24:22, note 16, with the commentary of Rabbi Yehoshua Hartman, notes 89–93. Also see Maharal, Derech HaChaim on Avot 1:2.
  4. Bereishit, 24:22.
  5. Shemot, 38:26.
  6. Avot, 1:2.
  7. The Maharal notes that the Torah describes sacrifices in terms of their pleasant smell. See Derech HaChaim on Avot 1:2
  8. See Rashi on Bereishit 12:2.
  9. Gur Aryeh on Bereishit 12:2, note 6, and Rabbi Hartman’s note 35; and Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner, Pachad Yitzchak, Sukkot, essay 20.
  10. The convert was asking Hillel to teach him the one fundamental concept that encapsulated the entire Torah.
  11. Shabbat 31a.
  12. Vayikra 19:18. See Maharsha on Shabbat 31a as to why Hillel paraphrased this mitzvah in the negative.
  13. For answers to this question (other than the one cited in this essay), see Rashi on Shabbat 31a, s.v. דעלך סני; and Kli Yakar on Vayikra 19:18.
  14. Heard from Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits.