Eliezer, the faithful servant of Avraham, was charged with finding a wife for Yitzchak. Knowing full well the gravity of his mission, he also recognized its difficulty. The woman he would choose was to be the mother of the Jewish People. The issue was: how to find her? Of the untold number of eligible women, how would he determine which was the right one?
The Torah tells us Eliezer’s system:
“And it will be that the maiden to whom I will say, ‘Please give me to drink,’ and she will answer, ‘Please drink, and I will give your camels to drink as well.’ She will be the one You have proven to be the wife for Yitzchak.” Bereishis 24:14
Rashi explains this wasn’t an arbitrary sign; this was the determinant of the woman best suited to enter into the house of Avraham. A woman who was so giving that she would go out of her way to help a complete stranger, even by offering to care for his camels, was the one to be the wife of Yitzchak.
And that in fact is what happened. No sooner did Eliezer get to the well than he met Rivkah. He asked her for something to drink, and as the Sforno explains, he was astounded by her reaction. The speed with which she moved, the energy with which she ran to fill the jug of water, was amazing. Eliezer watched, mouth agape, as Rivkah ran back and forth, refilling her jug time after time, until he and his ten camels were sated. He knew he had found the right woman. So without even asking her name, without inquiring into her family, he betrothed her to his master Yitzchak.
Middos Are Only Part of the Package The difficulty with this Rashi is that Eliezer used one limited criterion to find the perfect match for Yitzchak. Let’s grant that this woman had perfect middos and was truly a ba’alas chesed. But that is but one part of the person. Eliezer didn’t ask her about her religious beliefs. Perhaps she was an idol worshiper like her father and her brother. She might well have been a “stargazer,” as were many people living at that time. It seems Eliezer picked one limited focus to the exclusion of everything else, and in doing so, he took a great risk.
The answer to this question lies in understanding the centrality of middos in serving Hashem. When Hashem created the human, He made us of two distinct parts. There is a part of me that is preprogrammed to do everything that is good, right and proper. There is a full half of me that only wants to be generous, magnanimous, and giving. This is my neshamah, born of the highest elements in the cosmos. It yearns for a loving relationship with my Creator. And then there is another part of me: the nefesh ha’bahami. This part is the same living substance that occupies every animal in the world. It is made up of pure drives and instincts. It has no wisdom; it operates out of passions, appetites, and hungers. And it cares about nothing other than filling those hungers.
And so the human is comprised of two distinct, competing parts. These two elements manifest themselves in everything we do. One or the other is constantly gaining primacy over the person. The more I allow my pure neshamah to come to the fore, the stronger its urges and desires for greatness become. The more I give in to my animal instinct, the stronger it becomes.
When I see another person suffering, there is actually a battle going on inside me. Part of me cries out with that person. “What can I do to lighten his load? How can I help?” And part of me just couldn’t care less. There is a part of me that isn’t interested in him or anything else for that matter. All it cares about is fulfilling its needs and desires. Therefore, every situation in life is a test – a test to see which part comes to the fore, which part gains control over me.
What Rivkah Was Demonstrating What Eliezer witnessed at the well was a human being who reached such a high level of perfection that he was awestruck. For a woman to run out, time after time, filling jug after jug of water for someone she didn’t know, was a complete act of selflessness. It demonstrated she had reached a fabulously high level of self-perfection.