Parshat Hayei Sarah: Seeing the other

When we talk about “seeing the other,” we do not mean only recognizing his existence but recognizing his needs and making real room for him in our hearts.

Women on the Wall 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Women on the Wall 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
In this week’s Torah portion, we encounter an already elderly Avraham. His wife has passed away and he is crying for her, mourning her, and he purchases a gravesite for her. Now Avraham is free to worry about the future.
Yitzhak, the son who is going to continue the family dynasty, is still a bachelor so Avraham turns to his household manager – Eliezer – with a request that he find a partner for Yitzhak.
Eliezer travels to search for the special woman worthy of being Yitzhak’s wife, and finally finds Rivka, who agrees to come to Eretz Canaan – where Avraham and Yitzhak reside – and marry Yitzhak.
This story is described in the Torah in great detail.
One of our sages concluded something interesting from this: Rav Acha said: The discussion of the servants of the fathers is more beautiful than the Torah of sons.
(Midrash Raba, Genesis Parsha 60) Meaning: Many commandments are written in the Torah briefly, using few words, but this story, most of which is comprised of Eliezer’s thoughts and words, is written in great detail.
The number of words used by the Torah for each topic is not coincidental and acts as an indication of the importance of the issue. From this, Rav Acha concludes that the importance of this story is greater than the importance of other commandments written in the Torah.
Why is this story describing the shidduch of Yitzhak and Rivka so important? Following the way Eliezer searches for a partner suitable for Yitzhak teaches us a basic and significant point about relationships, and about the necessary characteristics in the person who will be privileged to be the one who continues the dynasty of Avraham Avinu and from whom Am Yisrael will grow.
Eliezer embarks on this search mission with one only one piece of data: The girl he is looking for has to be from Avraham Avinu’s family living in his native country, Aram Naharayim.
Being familiar with Avraham’s lifestyle and the values he wanted to bequeath to following generations, Eliezer decides, on his own, to run a “test” of the girls in the place he reaches. And he says it like this: Behold, I am standing by the water fountain, and the daughters of the people of the city are coming out to draw water.
And it will be, [that] the maiden to whom I will say, ‘Lower your pitcher and I will drink,’ and she will say, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels,’ her have You designated for Your servant, for Yitzhak...” (Genesis 24, 13-14) And indeed, the girl to whom Eliezer turned with this request was Rivka, and she agreed to his request and even added her own suggestion to help him give water also to the herd of camels that accompanied him on his journey.
Eliezer is excited about his success and immediately offers her jewelry and turns to speak with her parents about the match which will eventually take place, but not before Rivka expresses her consent to going with Eliezer with the purpose of marrying Yitzhak.
We read this incredible story and wonder: Is this the only criterion necessary for Yitzhak’s partner? Aren’t there other details that Eliezer should verify before he decides that this is the woman worthy of continuing Avraham’s dynasty? Aren’t there additional important qualities other than giving and helping others? Here we discover Avraham’s great spirit which was the basis for Eliezer’s actions, and which acts as the basic value upon which all of Judaism rests: Giving is the foundation of everything.
Avraham Avinu, who opened his home to any passing guest, bequeathed this message to us deeply and thoroughly. Nothing teaches us about a man’s character like the trait of giving. When a person gives of himself to others, it proves that he is not insular but is capable of seeing the needs of the other, and even the needs of animals living around him. This kind of person is one who is worthy of continuing the dynasty of Avraham since he internalized the most important value of all, the principle that guides success: Seeing the other.
When we talk about “seeing the other,” we do not mean only recognizing his existence but recognizing his needs and making real room for him in our hearts.
This is the trait that teaches us about a man’s character more than any other.
Rivka proved she had this trait because she not only agreed to the request of the stranger standing before her, but recognized his hidden needs, thinking of him and of his camels. She, therefore, was the woman worthy of being Yitzhak’s partner.
After we learn this important message, it is clear to us why this story is more important than other commandments written in the Torah. For it teaches us about the highest principle, the basis upon which all of Judaism rests, and the correct way in which we should lead our lives – recognizing the other and both his obvious and hidden needs.
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.