Parshat Chayei Sarah
Translations of kabbalistic texts are by Rabbi Larry Tabick, The Aura of Torah. Translations of the Torah and other commentaries are from Sefaria, except where otherwise noted.
Eliezer is on a mission to find a bride for Yitzhak. While waiting at a spring, he says the following prayer:
“I came today to the spring, and I said: O LORD, God of my master Abraham, if You would indeed grant success to the errand on which I am engaged! As I stand by the spring of water, let the young woman who comes out to draw and to whom I say, ‘Please, let me drink a little water from your jar.’ and who answers, ‘You may drink, and I will also draw for your camels’—let her be the wife whom the LORD has decreed for my master’s son.’
Zevi Elimelech of Dinov, early 19th century
There is a difference between the quality of Hesed [lovingkindness] and Rachamim [compassion]. Rachamim [compassion]. Rachamim is when people ask others for something they lack, and they [in turn] have compassion on them and give them what they want. This is not the case with the quality of Hesed, where people show kindness to each other even with regard to something they have not asked for …. [An example of this is] in the story of the servant and Rebecca. He set himself a sign of the young woman who gave him what he had not asked for, that is, when he said, “‘and I will also draw for your camels’–let her be the woman whom the Eternal has singled out for my master’s son.” She would be appropriate to bring into the house of Abraham, the man of Hesed.
This distinction of lovingkindness from generosity is found in mussar too. Lovingkindness requires generosity (the ability to give) and rachamim (the ability to respond to another’s suffering) but also the capacity to sense what another person’s needs are, even if they cannot articulate those needs or do not know what those needs are. In you need the ability to really see another person.
Why is Eliezer concerned that the future wife of Yitzhak have this ability?
What impact does that ability have on the world?
Why is finding a future wife at a well or spring a motif in the Torah? What are the practical reasons? Putting on your mystic’s hat, what might it symbolize?
וְיִצְחָק֙ בָּ֣א מִבּ֔וֹא בְּאֵ֥ר לַחַ֖י רֹאִ֑י וְה֥וּא יוֹשֵׁ֖ב בְּאֶ֥רֶץ הַנֶּֽגֶב׃
Yitzhak and just come from the well of Beer-lahai-roi, for he was settled in the region of the Negev. And Yitzhak went out walking in the field toward the evening and, looking up, he saw camels approaching. Raising her eyes, Rebekah saw Yitzhak. She alighted from the camel and said to the servant, “Who is that man walking in the field toward us?” And the servant said, “That is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself.
As an aside, the mention of camels is anachronism. Camels were not domesticated at the time this story takes place.
Beer-hahai-roi is a well, whose name means “the well of the God who sees me,” and is where God responded to the exiled Hagar and Ishmael and provided them water.
Moshe Hayyim Efraim of Sudylkov, 18th century
You might say that this alludes to what is written at the beginning of the Shulchan Aruch … : “‘I have set the Eternal before me always'” [Psalm 16:8] is the greatest principle of the Torah …, and that a person should imagine standing before a sovereign, for the ‘whole earth is full of God’s glory’ [Isaiah 6:3], and the Blessed One sees all our deeds … and in this way, we may be filled with awe.” See there.
You might say that this is alluded to here in this verse:
“Yitzhak” – meaning “awe,” symbolized by Yitzhak;
“Comes” – to a person;
“From the well”- from that Source;
“Lachai Ro’i [literally, “of the Living One who sees me”] – for you should alwasy consider that you stand before the Living One of the Worlds, who sees and examines all your movements and deeds and actions. [It is from] this Source that your awe and submission spring, as mentioned above, Understand.
“Seeing” another person is a necessary part of lovingkindness, and the symbolism of the well is connected with God’s lovingkindness. But here we also find it connected to awe/fear of God — that God sees you and examines you. It relates to judgment. Isn’t judgement the opposite of lovingkindness? Might being an object of lovingkindness also provoke fear?
Or does this imply that fear of God might also relate to love?