Chayei Sarah

Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18)

Chayei Sarah - Mission In Life

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The Measure of the Man (or Woman)

Eliezer, the faithful servant of Abraham, was charged with finding a wife for Isaac. Knowing full well the gravity of his mission, he also recognized its difficulty. The woman he would choose was to be the mother of the Jewish People. The issue was: how to find her? Of the untold number of eligible women, how would he determine which was the right one?

The Torah tells us Eliezer’s system:

And it will be that the maiden to whom I will say, “Please give me to drink,” and she will answer, “Please drink, and I will give your camels to drink as well.” She will be the one that You have appointed to be the wife for Isaac. - Genesis 24:14

Not a Sign, but a Test

The medieval commentator Rashi explains that this wasn’t an arbitrary sign; this was the determinant of the woman best suited to enter into the house of Abraham. Only a woman who was so giving that she would go out of her way to help a complete stranger, even by offering to care for his camels, was worthy of becoming the wife of Isaac.

And that, in fact, is what happened. No sooner did Eliezer get to the well than he met Rebecca. He asked her for something to drink and was astounded by her reaction – the speed with which she moved, her energy in running to fill the jug of water. It was amazing! Eliezer watched, mouth agape, as Rebecca ran back and forth, refilling her jug time after time, until he and his ten camels were sated. He knew that he had found the right woman. So without even asking her name, without inquiring into her family, he betrothed her to his master, to Isaac.

Character Is But One Part of the Package

The difficulty with all this is that Eliezer used one limited criteria to find the perfect match for Isaac. Let’s grant that this woman was exceptionally kind – that is but one part of the person. Eliezer didn’t ask her a word about her religious beliefs. Perhaps she was an idol worshiper like her father and her brother. She might well have been a “stargazer,” as were many people living at that time. It seems that Eliezer picked one limited focus to the exclusion of everything else, and in doing so, he took a great risk.

The answer to this problem lies in understanding the centrality of character in serving G-d. When G-d created the human, He made us of two distinct parts. There is a part of me that is preprogrammed to do everything that is good, right and proper. There is a full half of me that only wants to be generous, magnanimous, and giving. This is my soul, born of the highest elements in the cosmos. It yearns for a loving relationship with the Creator. And then there is another part of me: animal instincts. This part is the same living substance that occupies every animal in the world. It is made up of pure drives. It has no wisdom; it operates out of passions, appetites, and hungers. And it cares about nothing other than filling those hungers.

And so, the human is comprised of two distinct, competing parts. These two elements manifest themselves in everything that we do. One or the other is constantly gaining primacy over the person. The more that I allow my pure soul to come to the fore, the stronger its urges and desires for greatness become. The more that I give in to my animal instincts, the stronger that they become. The human is in constant battle, with one or the other gaining primacy.

These two parts manifest themselves in everything that we do.

When I see another person suffering, there is actually a battle going on inside of me. Part of me cries out with that person. “Oh, he is in pain! What can I do to lighten his load? How can I help?” And part of me just couldn’t care less. There is a part of me that just isn’t interested in him or anything else for that matter. All it cares about is fulfilling its needs and desires.

Therefore, every situation in life is a test – a test to see which part comes to the fore, which part gains control over me.

What Rebecca Was Demonstrating

What Eliezer witnessed at the well was a human being who reached such a high level of perfection that he was awestruck. For a woman to run out, time after time, filling jug after jug of water for someone she didn’t know was a complete act of selflessness. It demonstrated that she had reached a fabulously high level of self-perfection. She clearly had conquered her nature. Her physical side was diminished, and her soul was shining brightly. She may not have had all of the technical knowledge of serving G-d, but once introduced to it, she would cling to Him with a powerful bond. It was merely a matter of adding water to instant soup.

This concept has great relevance to us in that it helps us understand why kindness is so central to everything that we do. G-d is the ultimate Giver. He created this world to give of His good to man. However, that good has to be earned. To allow for this, G-d put us in the perfect laboratory for growth: life. Each of us was put into a body that only desires and knows its own needs, while our souls are given the challenge of overcoming those natural instincts and learning to care for others so we can reach spiritual heights. When man conquers his inner nature he emulates G-d, making himself more like his Creator. By perfecting himself this way, he lives up to the reason he was put on the planet.


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