When Yaakov met Rachel at the well, he experienced conflicting emotions. He felt tremendous joy at having finally met his bashert, yet he raised his voice and cried. Rashi explains that he cried because he came empty-handed. He said, “My father’s servant came with ten camels laden with gifts and finery, and I come with empty hands.”
Rashi goes on to explain why Yaakov didn’t bring a gift for Rachel. When Yaakov found out that Eisav was plotting to kill him, he fled from his father’s home. Eisav sent his son Alifaz to chase down Yaakov. Alifaz was a tzaddik, and when he approached Yaakov he said, “I can’t kill you because you are an innocent man. On the other hand, what will be with the command of my father?” Yaakov said to him, “A poor man has the halachic status of a dead man. Take my money, and it will be considered as if you killed me, so on some level you will have fulfilled your father’s words.”
As a result, Yaakov came to the well empty-handed. When it was time to propose to Rachel, he didn’t have the gifts that would be expected, and so he raised his voice and cried.
This Rashi becomes difficult to understand when we focus on who these people were. The Avos may have walked the same planet as do you and I, but they lived in a very different orbit. Their every waking moment was occupied by thoughts of Hashem. They lived and breathed to attain closeness to Hashem. That was the focus of their lives and existence. It was the only thing that mattered to them.
For many years, Rachel knew she was to marry Yaakov and be a matriarch of the Jewish people. You have to assume that when she finally met her bashert, she was overcome with joy. Here was the man she had waited for. Here in front of her was this great tzaddik, the man of her dreams, offering to marry her so she could fulfill her destiny. Her very life’s ambitions and desires were now coming to fulfillment. It is hard to imagine that at that moment she was concerned about glitter and trinkets.
Yet Yaakov cried because he didn’t have a diamond ring to give her. The question is – why? All that Rachel really wanted was being delivered to her. If so, why did Yaakov cry?
It seems the answer is that the lack of gifts may not have bothered Rachel much but the bottom line is that it wasn’t respectful to her. When you come to your kallah, you bring her a gift. That is the way dignified people act. That is the way of the world, and it isn’t proper to come without a gift. On some level, it is treating her without the kavod due to her, and that caused Yaakov pain – so much pain that he raised his voice and cried.
Everyone Hungers for Recognition
This is a tremendous lesson to us because the people among whom we live aren’t on the level of Rachel. A slight to their honor causes them real pain. People will go to great lengths to protect their reputation and dignity because these things are very important to them. And for that reason we need to develop a real sensitivity to other people’s dignity and honor.
But this concept goes much further. The reality is that there are few people who get enough recognition and respect. We humans have many needs. We need food and drink, shelter and protection, friends and companionship – and most of those needs are met. The one need that that is almost never met is the need to be appreciated. It is something we hunger for, something basic to our success and vitality. Yet there is no store in which it can be bought, no marketplace in which it can be acquired. And a person often can go around with a deep hunger, not even realizing what is amiss.
One of the greatest acts of kindness I can do for another person is to treat him with honor. If I find your currency and can acknowledge you in that vein, I can give you that which you deeply crave – and it costs me nothing.Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier