By Rabbi Mordechai Young
When I was in elementary school, parent–teacher conferences were always exciting in that it was an opportunity to look for new places to hide from my parents upon their return. OK, it wasn’t that bad. But the one word that got me in trouble was “potential.” The teacher was saying I could do better. I always pictured them saying it with a smirk — they were being positive on the outside while thinking they were getting me back for all my jokes during class.
In this week’s parashah, Chayei Sarah, Eliezer is sent to find a shidduch for Yitzchak Avinu. The pasuk (24:15) states that Rivka goes out (to draw water from the well) and the pitcher was on her shoulder. She filled up the pitcher. Eliezer ran to her requesting a drink. As we know, he davened that the girl from whom he requested water would give it to him and additionally give water to his camels. This would be the sign from Hashem that she was the proper match for Yitzchak. Rivka agreed to give him water. She lowered the pitcher, which, Rashi teaches, was on her shoulder. What is this teaching us? At first the pasuk mentioned that while empty, the pitcher was on her shoulder, and then Rashi teaches that she lowered the full pitcher from her shoulder. We see it was on her shoulder when empty and full. What is the lesson?
The Gemara Berachos teaches that water is also a code word for Torah. Just like we can’t go three days without water, we can’t go three days without a public Torah reading. The pitcher, which holds the water, i.e., Torah, is like a talmid chacham who holds the Torah. I think the Torah is hinting at a lesson: that Rivka would give Yitzchak the honor he deserves now at a younger age that he will deserve later in life when he is filled with Torah. She understood the potential of the tzaddik and gave him that honor. This is shown by placing the pitcher when it was empty in the same spot she placed it when it was full.
Eliezer saw the water in the well rise by itself to Rivka. This was a miracle. Rashi teaches that when Eliezer noticed this, he went towards her (to request the water). The Sifsei Chachamim teaches regarding this Rashi that Eliezer realized she was fitting to be connected to the family of Avraham Avinu, as the water also would rise by itself for him.
Why didn’t Eliezer daven that the girl for whom the water rises by the well should be the one fitting for Yitzchak? The water rising is something that happens outside of a person’s control. It does not show the person using his or her character and doing something good. For the girl to go beyond the request in kindness shows her good character. He knew that this quality of being ready to help another person is something needed in marriage.
In the Gemara Ta’anis (4a), Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan that three people made improper requests in prayer. Two were answered properly but one was answered improperly. Eliezer asked improperly. As a sign, he asked that someone would agree to give water to him and his camels as well, implying that she would be acceptable even if lame or blind. Nevertheless, he was answered properly and Hashem sent Rivka to him.
Why was he answered properly even though he requested improperly? The sefer Tehillah L’Yonah (on the Gemara Ta’anis) quotes the Yafeh To’ar (in Bereishis Rabbah) that Eliezer trusted in the merit of Avraham and Yitzchak that only a proper shidduch would come.
There is much more to learn from Eliezer finding the shidduch. We learn to see the potential in others and honoring them to help them fulfill it. Our deeds have value, as opposed to what was given to us. We are reminded to always pray for success, and realize that we may not have enough spiritual power to be answered, we ask Hashem anyway in the z’chus of our Avos.
Rabbi Mordechai Young is available as a remedial rebbe and tutor. He can be reached for comments at email@example.com.