Monday, November 10, 2014

Chayei Sarah 75- It is the way we do Chesed that counts

The parasha-portion deals with Abraham's servant Eliezer and his mission to find a suitable wife for Isaac- Yitzchak. He rests his camels near a well at evening time when women come out to draw water.  And the Medrash  gives advice to those who are looking for a wife – when you hear dogs barking, listen to what they say. A dog is very loyal to his Master, but drives away visitors and strangers. A wife should be one who is very loyal to her family and attentive to their needs, but at the same time welcomes strangers and visitors and ensures that all family members identify with the family mission of engaging in chesed, loving kindness and hospitality. So Eliezer comes up with a plan that with God's help will prove that the young girl is fitting to become part of Abraham's family. Eliezer says that he will ask for a little water and if the girl responds and goes beyond his request and also offers also to water his camels, this  is the girl chosen by God for Isaac- Yitchak.

According to Rashi, Eliezer is looking for a girl who displays the midot- traits of chesed and loving kindness. One of the problems with this test is we should be looking at the whole person, at all her characteristics rather than just one character trait like chesed –loving kindness. The Ma'or Va'shemes goes further and says that sexual immorality starts with acts of chesed and loving kindness. A' working lady' will try to first establish a connection with a potential client and endear herself to him by doing some kind act of chesed. So he suggests that Eliezer is not  looking for the trait chesed but looking for  Tzni'ut and modesty.

Rivkah responds to Eliezer's request for water by saying in a respectful way – drink my Master. She did  not say help yourself and take some water from the jug, but she actually served him, by lowering the jug to his lips. After he has finished drinking she says she will water the camels until they have finished drinking. She did not want to equate him to the camels, so she did not say I will give you AND the camels to drink. She did not throw away the water that Eliezer left in the jug so as not to embarrass him but used the water for the camels. She did this with great speed and energy which showed her passion for doing chesed – loving kindness and respect for Eliezer. Rivkah exposed herself to Eliezer for the exact amount of time needed to attend to his needs and then quickly moved on to water the camels. This showed that she was not interested in a personal relationship with Eliezer, but  just to be of help in the most modest and Tzniut way. When Eliezer asked if there is room in her father's house to spend the night, she went beyond his request by saying there was place to sleep many nights and also food and straw for the camels.

The act of chesed is very important, but what is more important is the way it is done, in that it  conveys a message and emotion  that you care , respect and are sensitive to the needs of the other person you want to help. The gift wrapping of a present and the letter attached is more important than the gift itself. The good feeling we give to the other person is more important than the gift.Often chesed is done in a way which is embarrassing to the receiver, not respectful and insensitive and even an invasion of their privacy. Giving the gift without the gift wrap and a letter is an insult. The way we do chesed  reflects on our whole personalities , the Tzniut – modesty , emotional intelligence , thoughtfulness,  sensitivity, respect, derech eretz ,  menschlighkeit , decency and common courtesy .

There is so much meaning behind the act of chesed. In order to encourage kids to do acts  of kindness we can help them reflect on how their chesed impacts on the lives of others on both physical and emotional levels. We can show them the sensitivity and thoughtfulness needed in order to do a simple act of chesed. We can help  them experience in a private and intimate way their inner pride, satisfaction in  being able to make a contribution to others. But as teachers and parents we are too concerned with the external acts of chesed and ignore the reasons behind the action. We offer rewards, points, and have mitzvah or chesed campaigns – which usually means that chesed stops once the campaign stops- to encourage kids to do chesed. But we miss the whole point of doing chesed. The important part of chesed is the spiritual part, the part you can't measure, the part that makes the action a positive one or a negative one. And we focus on the data , on what you can measure and so it makes no difference is the kid offers a kid a candy in order to impress his teacher who is watching them , or because he wants some chocolate in return or simply because he wants to make his friend who is feeling a little sad happier.

As Parents and teachers we have to set a personal example and do acts of chesed and loving kindness. But more important is helping kids be sensitive to way we do chesed  and  how chesed should be done. This means sharing our thoughts and the dilemmas of helping people in a way that does not embarrass them.

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