The Perfect Marriage: Chesed & Avodah (Kindness & Service)
Parsha Chayei Sarah: Bereshith/Genesis 23:1 - 25:18
Parsha Chayei Sarah devotes the majority of its text to finding a wife for Yitshaq (Isaac) with much of the details repeated twice. What lesson can we learn from the Torah's focus on the marriage between Yitshaq and Ribqah?
Building Up a Nation
The parsha begins with the death of Sarah, Yitshaq’s mother, and ends with the death of his father Abraham. The long middle portion is devoted to how a suitable wife was found for Yitshaq to continue the nation of Abraham.
Abraham was very close to YAH, and he understood the blessing YAHUAH gave him to make him a great nation with descendants like the dust of the earth and the stars in the heavens, a nation with a purpose and a mission to be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth.
Abraham's nation will have an important role in the earth, so its foundation must be solid. As the next in line to establish this great nation of YAHUAH, Abraham’s son couldn’t marry just anyone. His son’s wife would play an important role in founding this nation, so she must be selected carefully.
After Sarah’s death, Abraham sent his most trusted servant to find a wife for Yitshaq. When the servant arrived in Aram Naharayim, the city of Abraham’s brother Nahor, he prayed and asked YAH to reveal the right woman as the one who would give him a drink of water and water his camels too.
When Ribqah (Rebekah) arrived and did just that, he knew she was the one.
In Her Shoes
It’s usually taught that Ribqah’s actions demonstrated her strength of chesed (kindness), a trait necessary to be of the nation of Abraham.
To be honest, I never quite understood what was so great about the whole episode. For sure, it was good to show kindness to a stranger. But why is her act lauded as such a great act that it merited her to be a matriarch of the set-apart nation and the wife of a tzaddik (righteous one)?
Then, I put myself in her situation. If I arrived to draw water (not such an easy task) and someone asked me to stop what I’m doing and give him a drink, I probably would.
Would I then go beyond that and volunteer to water all those camels, too? I don’t know. That's asking a bit much. Maybe.
Now, would I be able to do all of that while a bunch of men sat there watching without offering to help...and not have something to say about it?
Hmmm...not likely. I would have at least one and probably more complaints running through my mind, and surely by day’s end, at least one of them (and probably more) would have come out of my mouth.
My response to the situation would have been nothing like Ribqah’s. I don’t like admitting that, but I have to be honest with myself.
Putting myself in Ribqah’s shoes, I see just how kind she was and just how much work I have to do.
Ribqah gave drink even though it took away from hers - and didn’t complain. She voluntarily watered all the animals even though it took a lot of time and energy - and didn’t complain. Everyone sat and watched her when they could’ve helped - and yet, she didn’t complain. Not before, not during, and not after. No complaints.
Complaining about a mitzvah (good deed) takes away its merit. It’s how the adversary works to steal our good deeds so we don’t get rewarded. He’ll cause us to complain beforehand so we don’t do it to start with; he’ll cause us to complain during the deed so we won’t complete it, and he’ll cause us to complain afterward so it’s as if we didn’t do it at all.
Complaining ruins our kindness, even it's done after the fact.
Ribqah did it all willingly and with no complaints. Her chesed was untainted, complete and wholesome. Undoubtedly, someone of lesser stature (like myself) would not have done all that she did and be able to do it without complaint.
The Perfect "Marriage"
Ribqah’s character matched Abraham’s, thus making her a suitable match for his son and a qualified matriarch of the nation.
Yitshaq also possessed the trait of kindness, but his strength was his avodah, his service to YAHUAH. Contrary to what we were led to believe when we were kids, Yitshaq was a grown man when Abraham was going to offer him up to YAH. He knew full well what was going to happen, and he willingly went. He was willing to give his life to serve YAHUAH.
Parsha Chayei Sarah’s lengthy focus on finding a wife for Yitshaq stresses the importance of a marriage between service to YAHUAH and kindness toward others.
This not only concerns the marriage between two individuals but also speaks of the ‘marriage’ that takes place in one’s life. We must have both service to YAH and kindness toward others in our life.
Most of us probably have a predisposition to one or the other. If we excel in chesed (kindness) and find it easy and enjoyable to help others, always looking for ways to help, then perhaps our tikkun (the thing we have to work on) is avodah, service to YAHUAH. Perhaps, we need to focus more time on prayer and Torah study. (Not to lessen kindness but to increase avodah.)
However, if we excel in avodah (service to YAHUAH) and find it easy and enjoyable to devote time to prayer and Torah study, then perhaps our tikkun is showing more chesed. Perhaps, we need to spend more time and energy on acts of kindness, doing good for others without complaint.
Our goal is to become balanced, to be able to do both and find both equally enjoyable and easy to do.
Being balanced in both chesed and avodah makes us a true descendant of the marriage of Yitshaq and Ribqah, the family of Ya’aqob - Yisrael.
May we all strive to attain a level of pure, untainted kindness and continually be strengthened in our daily avodah. So may it be.