A rose among thorns

Rivkah was a beautiful flower growing in a desert, but she came from the family of Avraham and knew about his deeds.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller ,

Rav Avigdor Miller
Rav Avigdor Miller
Courtesyr

A Girl’s Story

It’s important to understand that when the Torah tells us the tales of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs, Avot and Imahot, it’s for a purpose. We're accustomed to the stories already so when the ba'al korei reads them in the shul we're not even listening to the details; to us they seem to be just part of the narrative. But that’s a big mistake – the stories are the most important part of the Torah! They take up more space than the halakhot, you know. We have important and complicated laws that don't get as many verses, psukim, as these stories.

We’ll study an example from this week’s reading, sedrah. Listen to this story; if you’ll think into it a little bit, you’ll see that it’s quite remarkable. Here’s a little girl named Rivkah living in Padan Aram, far away from Avraham Avinu, and the truth is that we should have never even heard of her. Her home wasn’t so special – her family wasn’t very exceptional – and she should have gone lost from history. And then suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, this little girl leaps out into our history and assumes a role of supreme greatness.

It's a queer thing. We know the story so we accept it as a fact; we're accustomed to Rivkah now because we know who she is and so we think there was always a Rivkah; it’s just the way it had to be. But the truth is that at one time she was just a girl – in her home she didn't wear any golden crowns; it didn’t have to be that she should become one of the Matriarchs, Rivkah Imeinu. And therefore it’s a question we should ask: What was it that made Rivkah the mother of the Jewish people?

The Backstory

Rivkah had a number of good points but whatever they may have been, the Torah doesn't tell us anything about them. There's only one thing it tells us. If you look in the Bible, the chumash, you'll see that there's only one thing that brought Rivkah to this unique role in history.

You recall that when Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, went to Padan Aram to seek a wife for Yitzchok it was a very serious mission. Hashem had promised Avraham that from his son, Yitzchok, would come forth the Chosen Nation; and therefore the woman who would be chosen to be his wife would eventually become the mother of that nation. And therefore, it couldn’t be just anyone; only an exceptional woman could be worthy of becoming the mother of the exceptional people.

Now, when Eliezer was already on his way to Padan Aram he began to reflect on how he could best execute this mission and choose the one most suited for this eternal role. The responsibility weighing down on him was so enormous that he no longer wanted to rely on himself – he should choose according to his own understanding the mother of the Chosen People? ! Oh no! He was afraid to be the one to accept such a burden. And so he turned to Hashem and asked Him to choose.

A Test

But in order to designate the one that Hashem would choose, Eliezer offered the following suggestion – he said like this: “I’m going to ask one of the girls who come to the well to give me a drink. And Hashem, I’m asking of You that if she is the right girl, she should acquiesce and she should offer to give water to my camels too. Please Hashem see to it that the right girl should be there.”

Now when he came to the place and he saw a pretty girl coming out with a jug on her shoulder, he hoped that she would be the one. “Hashem! Let her be the one please!” He knew that it could be that if he would wait a bit longer another girl would come out too, so he ran towards the pretty one hoping maybe she’d be the one he would take her for Yitzchok. And then he put forth the fateful question to her: “Can you let me drink a little water from your pitcher?”

Now, when an able-bodied man with a whole company of servants – I’m sure they were husky men too – stops you and asks for a drink, you help them; you direct them to the closest grocery store or to a water fountain. Rivkah could have been polite and pointed to the well, “Mister; the well is over there.”

Even better, she could have said, “Here; have some water. Please help me lower my jug from my shoulder.” A jug filled with water is very heavy – it’s not easy to lower a jug from the shoulder. “Mister,” she should have said. “If you don't mind, take the pitcher down from my shoulder. Forgive me for asking but it’s very heavy.”

She Passes the Test

What did she do? Listen well to what happened then. It was something spectacular; if it wasn’t written in the pesukim it would be hard to believe. This young girl – she didn’t know that this stranger was searching for a shidduch for his wealthy master – immediately got busy. וַתֹּרֶד כַּדָּהּ עַל יָדָהּ וַתַּשְׁקֵהוּ – On her own she lowered the heavy pitcher down and made it available for him to drink. וַתֹּאמֶר שְׁתֵה אֲדֹנִי – “Here, my master,” she said to him, “Drink all you want.”

And that was only the beginning of Rivkah’s hachnasas orchim enterprise. All of a sudden she sprung into action; she opened her mouth and she asked from him a favor: “Please sir; let me give water to your camels too —would you let me give your camels to drink?”

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried giving water to a camel but you have to know that it's an almost unlimited job. A camel will drink and drink and drink – it doesn't know when to stop. One camel itself can drink as much as thirty men; and Elazar and his retinue had more than a few camels.

And so Rivkah went into action; she began running back and forth from the well to the drinking troughs. She couldn’t walk because she had such a big and long task ahead of her; she had to fill the troughs with water incessantly. As soon as a camel approached, it dried up the trough with the first gulp.

It states, וַתָּרָץ עוֹד אֶל הַבְּאֵר – she ran back and forth. She ran with her pitcher to the camel and she poured it in the trough to water the camel. And then back to the well, back and forth and back and forth, עַד אִם כִּלּוּ לִשְׁתֹּת, until even the camels got tired of drinking. Not they were pulled away; they stopped on their own. Now that’s something! Their master never gave them that much water. He also knew that camels have a big appetite but never mind; he has pity on his legs, on his arms. It’s not easy squelching the appetite of a camel.

Now, how long it took I cannot tell you, but it wasn’t short. It took her a lot of time running back and forth, back and forth pouring the water from her bucket into the drinking box for the camels.

She is Chosen

At that moment the history of the world was changed forever. “Ooh!” Hakodosh Boruch Hu said. “That’s the girl I choose to be the mother of My nation. This little girl who wants to do kindliness to wayfarers, she’s the one I want to be the mother of the Jewish people.”

Now, that's all the Torah tells us about Rivkah. We don't know anything else about her. Later when Rivkah was in Yitzchak's house, she developed; we understand of course that she became greater and greater in the house of the Avot Yitzchak was a great rebbi, not to mention the whole environment; Avraham Avinu and so on. But she was chosen to begin this unique career, the supreme career of being Rivkah Imeinu, only because of this one episode that the Torah tells us.

A Rose Among Thorns

Now, the question is where did Rivkah learn such a thing? To be so meshugeh for giving other people to drink? “Sir,” she said, “Can I have the pleasure of giving your camels to drink too?” Where did she learn such business?!

One thing is for sure – it wasn’t from her immediate family that Rivkah learned these things. You remember when her brother, Lavan, saw her coming back home he became very excited. But it wasn’t because there was a wayfarer in town; Lavan wasn't such a hospitable person, a big machnis orach; only that he saw the jewelry that the stranger had given her, so he said “בּוֹא בְּרוּךְ הַשֵּׁם Come O’ blessed of Hashem. If you’re blessed with money then you’re a man I want in my house.”


We know from the Torah, from the end of last week’s parsha, that people inquired from the caravans that traveled back and forth and they heard the news about their families. We see in the pesukim (22:20-24) how Avraham received the news that children were born to his relatives; it says there that he even heard the news that Rivkah was born. And so the families knew about each other.
So Lavan was a machnis orach not lishmah, but his sister Rivkah was something else altogether. She was a marvelous phenomenon. And therefore it’s a question that deserves an answer: How did a rose like Rivkah grow up among such thorns? It doesn’t make sense; something as beautiful as that has to be planted and cared for.

The Caravan Gazette

The answer is like this. Rivkah was a beautiful flower growing in a desert, that’s true. But she came from a house which had formerly been the family of Avraham. Her great grandfather, Nachor, was Avraham’s brother and therefore Rivkah knew that she had a great-uncle in Eretz Canaan who was doing phenomenal things.

Even though she lived in Padan Aram, far away from Eretz Canaan, the travelers who came from one place to another told her stories about her great-uncle Avraham. She heard frequent tidings from wayfarers about what was doing.

We know from the Torah, from the end of last week’s parsha, that people inquired from the caravans that traveled back and forth and they heard the news about their families. We see in the pesukim (22:20-24) how Avraham received the news that children were born to his relatives; it says there that he even heard the news that Rivkah was born. And so the families knew about each other.

Exceptional Hospitality

Now, what did Rivkah hear? One of the things she heard most often about was Avraham’s exceptional hospitality. It was something so marvelous, so out of the ordinary, that it became the talk of the town. Everyone knew that Avraham made it one of his fundamentals in life to feed people. People spoke about how he went all out in his efforts to attract people to eat in his tent; how he ran and he begged people to patronize him. They told about how he would fall on his face and entreat wayfarers to partake of his hospitality. Even when the wayfarers demurred; “No thank you,” they said, “We’re fine,” but Avraham insisted: “Please, אַל נָא תַעֲבֹר; please don't go away.”

If you passed by Avraham’s tent you were stuck because he meant business and when a person wants to accomplish something in business he goes all out. I remember many years ago I was once looking to buy a coat on the East Side. This was over forty years ago. I was walking into one store but suddenly the man next door, from the store I had just passed by, grabbed me by my lapel. He said, “Come to my store; I have better stuff.”

That’s how Avraham was; when Avraham saw a wayfarer coming, he didn't take any chances. Even if the day was especially hot and Avraham was not well – even if he had just undergone a not so minor surgery – no matter; he ran out. He fell down on the ground at the feet of the travelers and he begged. וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ אָרְצָה – He bowed down to the ground to him like a man bows down to a customer. “Please Mister, come into my store; אַל נָא תַעֲבֹר – Please don't pass away from me. He entreated with kol minei piyus: “Please give me the opportunity to feed you.” And then when they acceded to his requests he was omed aleihem, he stood over them, and he slaughtered oxen for them.

These were the stories that travelers were telling over when they came to Padan Aram. Every time the caravans stopped at the well the stories were told; and they were so remarkable that they didn’t need any embellishments. Everyone was talking about this nesi Elokim in Eretz Canaan who lives for the purpose of feeding others.

Hearing and Listening

Now, among those who heard the stories was a little girl named Rivkah. She came to the well to draw water for her family and she overheard the reports. But she didn’t just hear it like we hear things; in one ear and out the other. She listened well; she thought about the stories she heard and she asked for details.

Ears, you have to know, aren’t just apparatuses hanging on the side of your head. Rivkah understood what Dovid Hamelech taught many years later: אָזְנַיִם כָּרִיתָ לִּי – You dug out ears into my head (Tehillim 40:7). Not “the ears that You gave me,” or “the ears that you placed on my head.” No; the “dug out ears” that are tunnels that lead into my brain.

The stories Rivkah heard about Avraham’s desire to feed others went into her mind and there began to burn within her a fire to do the same. She listened and studied the ggod deeds, the maasim, of Avraham and slowly but surely it made her into a new person altogether.

Credit for this article goes to Toras Avigdor, an organization dedicated to disseminating the Torah hashkafa of Rav Avigdor Miller ztz"l. Subscribe for our free content by sending an email to ey@torasavigdor.org, or visit our website.



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