Do we have the right to test G-d? Can we sit back and wait for G-d to give us a sign as to what we are meant to do? Or perhaps we are meant to live in somewhat of a fog, so as to preserve intact our freedom to choose and make decisions in this world?
This week’s portion, Chayei Sarah, contains a fascinating story on this topic.
Avraham is getting on in years, his beloved wife Sarah is now gone and buried, and it is apparently time for Yitzchak to find a wife. So he calls in his trusted servant, Eliezer, and sends him on a mission to find a suitable mate for his son.
Avraham is insistent on his future daughter-in-law coming from the land of his birth, far away, perhaps assuming it would be better for Yitzchak’s family if his wife is removed from the influences of her pagan home. (Better, perhaps, not to have grandma popping by with birthday idols for the grandchildren!)
So Eliezer sets off on his mission, with an audacious plan and a prayer to G-d, “the G-d of Abraham.”
And he (Eliezer) said: Hashem, G-d of my master Abraham, please appear before me today, and do kindness with my master Abraham. Behold I will stand at the wellspring, and the daughters of the men of the town will go out to draw water. And the girl to whom I will say ‘tip your pitcher’ and I will drink, and she will then say ‘drink and I will bring water for your camels as well’, then you will have shown (proven) to your servant Yitzchak, and through it I will know that you have done kindness with my master. (Bereishit 24:12-14)
Eliezer will go to the wells on the outskirts of town, near the home of Betuel and Lavan, Abraham’s cousins, seeking water. And when he asks the girls to draw water from the well and pour water into his mouth, if one of them will not only acquiesce to this rather presumptuous request, but will also immediately hasten to draw enough water for his camels, then she will be the wife for Yitzchak, the son of Abraham.
Indeed, as soon as he finishes his strange request to G-d, Eliezer sees Rivkah (Rebecca, Yitzchak’s wife to be) come to the wellspring, whereupon he runs to her with this request, and not only does she pour water (“Hagmi’ini Na’”) into his mouth, she proceeds to draw water for all of his camels!
• • •
This presents us with a preposterous recipe for finding a wife! Eliezer, with all of his servants standing by, actually stands before her, asks for water and literally holds his head back expecting her to pour water into his open, waiting mouth! And as if that is not enough, he wants to see whether she will then, of her own accord, without his asking, begin to draw water for all of his camels!
Have you ever seen a camel drink?
I remember sitting and watching a camel drink, and drink, and then drink some more, for over an hour, as it emptied an entire water trough. Camels drink only once every few days, but when they drink, they really drink.
So imagine a girl drawing enough water from a well, bucket by bucket, for ten camels. That is an incredible amount of work.
And Eliezer has basically told G-d, if you want me to find Yitzchak the right girl, then this is how it has to be — she has to make all this effort, without my even asking! And she has to do it, while all my men and I sit around and watch. And all this occurs “le’et erev,” as dusk is approaching. This poor girl must have been stuck until the middle of the night.
What on earth would possess Eliezer to demand such an outrageous performance in order to find a bride for Yitzchak? And most incredible of all, it actually works.
What are we meant to learn from this strange story? Is this the recipe for a successful marriage?
And, perhaps the strangest part of this story: why is Abraham sending Eliezer to find a bride for Yitzchak? Why doesn’t Yitzchak go find her himself? Why does Abraham have to send anyone? G-d, after all, already promised that ki’be Yitzchak yikareh lechah zarah (through Yitzchak will you merit offspring).”
In truth, this story speaks to the heart of what loving, healthy relationships are really meant to be. How do I know what and whom I am really looking for, whether in a spouse, or a business partner?
• • •
Yitzchak has no relationship whatsoever with Rivkah before they wed. He does not meet her, court her, or date her. In fact, at the end of our story, when Eliezer is bringing Rivkah back as a wife, Yitzchak is out in the fields, and Rivkah has to ask Eliezer who he is.
We live in a society that assumes that love is something you have to find. Many who have not (or feel they have not) yet found that love, are still looking for it. But love is not something you find, it’s something you build. It isn’t a noun; it is, rather, a verb.
People often mistakenly assume that the deep feelings of love experienced later in a relationship are due to the gift of love that was originally discovered, but that isn’t true. They are rather the result of the hard work two people put in to what they found.
Love (which in Hebrew is ahava, related to the word hav, to give) is all about giving (as opposed to lust, which is all about taking), and giving is very hard work. Only when two people are committed to giving to each other can a real and lasting relationship of love ensue.
But if you cannot build a relationship until you are committed to giving to each other, how does one make the decision to make that commitment to give? That decision is the first essential component of any healthy relationship: trust — in each other, and ultimately in the silent partner of any relationship, Hashem.
If I realize that I have found someone who shares the same values and goals as I do, all I really need to know is whether they are prepared to work as hard as I am to make them come true. That is the secret of any healthy relationship.
Yitzchak does not love Rivkah before they marry, because he does not really know her. It is only after he brings her home, and they begin to work at building their relationship, that he can love her, because now he is giving to her; they are both partners in creating something much bigger than either of them.
• • •
How does Eliezer find a partner for a Yitzchak? By finding someone who can live up to the values and goals of the son of Abraham. Avraham is the man who argues to save the evil city of Sedom. And it is Avraham who in the heat of the desert, at the ripe old age of ninety-nine, on the third day after his circumcision, runs to help three strangers who are already coming towards him.
Hence, Eliezer knows exactly what he is looking for. He is looking for a woman whose ethics and kindness are so extraordinary, that she is worthy of being the soul mate of a Yitzchak. Such a match can only come from G-d.
The gift we seek isn’t love; that is something we have to earn and work to achieve. Rather, the gift Hashem gives us is a person who is ready to share our dreams.
And of course, this means we first have to know what our dreams are. If we don’t know, we cannot really know who we are looking for.
This is why the goal is not to find the right person in a relationship, it is, rather to become the right person, so that other person can find us.
And if there was ever a person who knew who he was, it was Yitzchak. So he doesn’t have to find the woman he is looking for; Eliezer can find her for him.