When visiting friends, I remarked that their main floor looked like it had quite a makeover. The wife laughed, saying there was a funny story behind it. “Our living room carpet was old and worn so we took the plunge and chose a replacement for $3,000. Then I realized the paint in the room wouldn’t match and was 15 years old, so we decided to paint the living room. Next, I couldn’t help noticing our old couches. And then there was the adjacent dining room—how would it look next to our new living room? So, we painted the dining room as well. In the end, we had entirely redone our living room with new carpet, paint job and furniture. And our dining room was repainted, a new hardwood floor was installed, and a brand-new dining room table and chairs were purchased. Our modest carpet replacement ended up as a $40,000 makeover!”
I am reminded of this story when I think of the mission Eliezer was sent on by Avraham to find a suitable wife for his son Yitzchak. Eliezer decided on a sign: he would ask an unmarried girl for some water to drink. If she then gave him water and volunteered to draw water for his camels as well, she would be the match for Yitzchak. Soon after, Rivka came by and he asked for a little water to drink from her pitcher. She gave him water, then refilled the pitcher for his whole entourage. Rivka then proceeded to draw buckets and buckets of water to fill the trough for all their camels to drink. Eliezer’s prayer had been answered.
Rav Hirsch explains this was the definitive sign of a future matriarch of the Jewish nation. She possessed the sterling attribute of kindness, part of the Jewish DNA, so she merited to be part of the foundation of klal Yisrael.
The Alter of Novardok asks a penetrating question. Certainly, Rivka demonstrated great hospitality and kindness. But maybe this was the one area in which she excelled, but other aspects of Rivka’s character might not be so praiseworthy.
The Alter of Novardok answers that when someone demonstrates perfection in one area, it shows they are on the path to perfecting other areas as well. Our inner qualities, he says, are all intertwined. Rivka’s display of perfection in the area of chesed (kindness) was proof she aimed for overall perfection. Eliezer was correct: her great chesed at the well showed she was the right mate for Yitzchak to become one of the matriarchs. Just like when someone starts to redecorate a room, it often ends up with an entirely new facelift, so too, when someone demonstrates refinement in one area, it indicates they are refining themselves in all areas.
Let me share another story of perfecting chesed. A close friend in Israel had to have a serious medical procedure to remove a growth. He was advised to have it performed in New York, as they had a technique that could hopefully remove the growth without the need for any other treatments. He managed with help to connect with a top specialist, flying in to visit this doctor at his home on a Sunday afternoon. The doctor reviewed the many scans and advised him that another surgeon from a different hospital would be a better choice to do this special surgery. This kind doctor refused any payment since he would not be performing the surgery, and personally contacted the other surgeon to make the arrangements.
As we were sitting in the waiting room at 6:45 a.m. to meet the other surgeon, the referring doctor walked into the waiting room. We were incredulous! This was a very busy specialist, head of a department in a competing hospital and someone who was not getting paid for this case. What was he doing here? He walked over to us and said, “This surgeon is the best. I want to make sure he is clear on what I recommend, to ensure you have a completely successful surgery without the need for any other treatments and a quick recovery.”
That’s called chesed to perfection. When a person strives for perfection in one area, it leads to a path of striving to perfect all areas.
All of us have areas we struggle with. We all want to improve! Often, we just don’t know where to start and we feel immobilized. The lesson we learn from Eliezer in choosing Rivka is that it doesn’t matter where we start. Start anywhere; once we work on perfecting one area of our character, that positively affects our attitude and approach to all other areas. May we all go from strength to strength.