Eliezer has a tough job in this week’s Torah portion (Chayei Sarah – Genesis 23:1-25:18). How would YOU like to be responsible for choosing a partner for your boss’s child? Talk about pressure! Yet, he comes up with a unique way to assess who would make the best wife for Isaac.
Eliezer and his entourage arrive at the well, the central gathering place in town. Eliezer offers this prayer, “If I ask any of the women for a drink and she not only agrees to draw water for me, but also for all of the camels, then I will know that she is the right person.” What could possibly be his motivation? The answer is one word- kindness, in Hebrew, chesed, loving acts of kindness, love in action.
In God’s own self-description, God is described as “rav chesed,” FILLED with kindness. The Torah begins and ends with God’s acts of kindness- providing clothing for Adam and Eve, and creating a burial place for Moses. We who are made in the image of God should emulate this quality, to be overflowing with kindness. The prophet Micah teaches that there are three things God wants from us, one of which is to LOVE chesed. Not just to do acts of kindness, but to have our hearts filled when we do so and when we see others fill the world with kindness. Henry James said it well, “Three things are important in life: the first is to be kind, the second is to be kind, and the third is to be kind.” Eliezer understood that a woman who was kind would be a wonderful spouse for Isaac.
Why is kindness such a challenge that our tradition must emphasize it so? It seems like it should come naturally. What’s so hard about just being nice, helping others as much as we can, creating positive energy in the world? Psychologists suggests that insecurity is the foundation of unkindness. People are self-absorbed, preoccupied, angry and hurt. A wise physician once said that love is the best medicine for people. “Well what if it doesn’t work?” Her reply, “Increase the dose.”
How can we increase the dose of chesed? What people want most in life is to be heard and understood. So, being fully present with a listening ear and a warm smile is a good start. Making folks feel welcome is an act of kindness. Caring for those in need, visiting the sick and attending a shiva minyan, all of these are ways of extending the love in our community. Learning to acknowledge and let go of hurt is a loving act to friends and family. Not to mention the grace of giving the benefit of the doubt.
Barbara Kingsolver wrote that “Nothing wondrous can come into this world unless it rests on the shoulders of kindness.” The entire future history of the Jewish people rests on the shoulders of Rebecca’s act of kindness in extending her loving care to Eliezer and his entourage. What an inspiration!
As we read Chayei Sarah and reflect on Rebecca’s extraordinary acts of kindness, let’s make Reb Nachman of Bratslav’s prayer OUR prayer:
God, it is oh, so simple
to find the evil, the ugly, the bad.
Help me to learn
to discount all that is negative
in the other.
Show me the goodness, the beauty,
the kindness in everyone I meet.