The Trait of Kindness
הרב מרדכי גרינברג
The Torah relates at great length all the details of the story of Eliezer, Avraham's servant. Chazal comment on this, "The talk of the servants of the Avot (patriarchs) is more beautiful before G-d than the Torah of the children." (Bereishit Rabbah 60:11) The reason for this is that the "Torah of the children" deals with the specifics of action, whereas the "talk of the servants of the avot" deals with the root of the actions, i.e., character traits.
The Ran, in his sermons, poses the following question. Why was Avraham careful not to take a wife for Yitzchak from the daughters of Canaan, but rather insisted on one of the daughters of Charan? After all, both of them worshipped idols just the same! He answers that the shortcoming of the daughters of Charan was only ideological, which is not transmitted hereditarily. The daughters of Canaan, however, were flawed in character, which is hereditary. The depraved character of Canaan is underscored in the Torah's introduction to the laws of incest ("arayot"), where it warns, "Do not perform the practice of the land of Canaan to which I bring you." (Vayikra 18:3) The prophet Yechezkel, as well, says about them, "Those whose flesh is the flesh of donkeys." (23:20) This is passed on hereditarily, and is difficult to correct.
Rivka was tested as to her character traits, to what extent the trait of chesed -- which was the pillar of Avraham's household -- was rooted in her. Chesed is not only giving to another and filling his lack. Many people perform chesed because their heart aches over the poor and wretched, and filling their needs causes a feeling of satisfaction. However, this behavior still does not transcend egoism. The true trait of chesed is when a person strives to do good to his fellow, not just to himself. A witty and sharp anecdote is told about a Rebbe who asked one of his chasidim why he eats fish on Shabbat. The chasid answered that he likes fish. The Rebbe reprimanded him, "Someone who likes fish does not eat them. You like YOURSELF, and are willing to kill the fish in order to derive pleasure from them!"
A "man of chesed" is a person who SEEKS opportunities to do good, and does not do it only when he chances upon it. Avraham sat at the opening of the tent looking for visitors. This emulates G-d, who built the world in order to have the opportunity to do good, as it says in Tehillim (89:3), "Olam chesed yibaneh -- The world is built upon chesed." This idea is stressed in a number of verses:
1. "What does Hashem require of you but to do justice, to LOVE kindness ..." (Micha 8:6) Justice is done, but it is not enough to do chesed; chesed must be loved.
2. "One who PURSUES righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor" (Mishlei 21:21) Not everyone who performs chesed merits this, only one who pursues it.
3. "You shall open your hand to him [the poor]; you shall lend him your requirement, WHATEVER IS LACKING TO HIM." (Devarim 15:8) Chazal teach, "Even a horse to ride on and a slave to run before him." (Ketuvot 67b) He provides the poor not only with the minimal needs, but cares even for the person's comfort, if he needs it.
Rivka was tested on this point, as Eliezer prayed (Bereishit 24:13-14):
Behold, I am standing here by the spring of water and the daughters of the townsmen come out to draw water. Let it be that the maiden to whom I shall say, `Please tip over your jug so I may drink,' and who replies, `Drink, and I will even water your camels,' her You will have designated for Your servant, for Yitzchak, and may I know through her that You have done kindness with my master.
Someone who is asked for something and does it, still does not prove that he is a person of chesed. But one who is asked for a little, and gives more than what he was asked for -- he is called a "man of chesed." As such, "She is fitting for him, because she will do kindness, and she is worthy to enter Avraham's household." (Rashi 24:14)
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