Kindness With Wisdom
Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18 )
The best acts of kindness aren’t random. They stem from understanding what the situation requires.
Abraham sends his faithful servant, Eliezer to find a suitable wife for his righteous son, Isaac. When Eliezer arrives at his destination he prays to God to send him a sign to enable him to determine who should be Isaac's wife. He asks, "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'; she, You will have designated for Your servant, for Isaac, and may I know through her that You have done kindness with my master." (1)
The commentaries explain that he did not merely suggest a random sign; rather he wanted to ascertain that the future Matriarch would have a highly developed sense of kindness. The commentaries see in the exactness of his prayer that it was insufficient that she merely respond to his request for water; he planned to only ask for water for himself and hoped that she would react on her own initiative and offer to water the camels as well. The Seforno points out that he wanted her to delve beyond his verbal request for water for himself and perceive that his true needs were far greater, and act accordingly.(2)
In a similar vein the Malbim points out that it was insufficient that Rebecca be kind-hearted, rather Eliezer also wanted her to demonstrate wisdom that would enable her to best serve his needs. He carefully analyzes Eliezer's request; he asked that she tip the jug for him as opposed to him taking the jug from her and drinking himself. He hoped that rather than being angered by his supposed laziness, she would try to judge him favorably that he must have some kind of pain in his hands. Accordingly, she would realize that if he does not have the strength to hold the jug for himself, then all the more so, he would be unable to draw water for the camels. Consequently, she would perform the arduous task of watering the ten camels herself! When she successfully passed these tests, Eliezer saw that he had found an appropriate match for Isaac.(3)
The Seforno and Malbim show that it was insufficient that Rebecca be kind, rather she needed to demonstrate wisdom that would enable her to perceive Eliezer's true needs without him even asking her directly. We learn from here that in order to perform kindness in the most optimal way, a person must use wisdom and develop an awareness of the people around him. This enables him to perceive another person's needs and provide for him rather than waiting to be approached.
The Beis HaLevi derives a similar point from a verse in the end of Megillas Esther. In extolling the praises of Mordechai as the leader of the Jewish people, the Megilla tells us that, "he was doresh tov l'amo," that he sought the good for his people.(4) The Beis HaLevi asks, surely all Torah leaders want to do good for the people, what is the uniqueness of Mordechai that he was 'doresh tov le'amo'? He explains that Mordechai would not wait until people came to him and request from him to help him. Rather, he would preempt them by coming to them and trying to discern their needs and how he could help them.(5)
The Beis HaLevi himself exemplified the trait of understanding people's needs through his keen awareness before they even came to him. On one Seder night, he was asked if it was permissible to use milk for the Four Cups. In reply, he sent a messenger to the questioner's home with a generous amount of wine and meat. He realized that they obviously did not have wine with which to drink the four cups. Moreover, since they were planning to drink milk, they evidently did not have any meat to eat. He acted accordingly and provided for their unasked for needs!
Throughout our daily lives we encounter people who may be in need of some kind of assistance. However, very often, they are too embarrassed to explicitly ask for help. Thus, it is necessary to strive to emulate Rivka and perceive their real needs. For example, one person was found to be living in desperate poverty - how was it discovered? A friend had lent him 25 shekels some weeks earlier and casually asked if his friend could repay it. The borrower's face turned white at the sheer impossibility of having to pay back such a loan. Such a reaction alerted his friend and he made some investigations and discovered that this man did not have enough money to live on the most basic level. Sometimes, the facial expression of a person or a casual comment will indicate a certain need. It is in our power to develop an awareness to such hints and thereby greatly increase our capacity for doing kindness.
1. Chayei Sarah, 24:14.
2. Seforno, ibid.
3. Malbim, ibid. Also see Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh and Beis HaLevi for more discussion of the great wisdom that Rivka demonstrated in this story.
4. Megillas Esther, 10:3.
5. Quoted in Motsei Shalal Rav, Purim, p.246.