Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Thanks But No Thanks
In Parshas Chayei Sarah, the Torah describes the search for a wife
for Yitzchak; Avraham entrusts his faithful servant Eliezer with the task
of finding a worthy successor to Sarah. Eliezer asks Hashem for a
And he said, "Hashem, G-d of my master Avraham, may
You arrange it for me today, and do kindness with my
master Avraham. Behold, I stand here by the water well,
and the daughters of the townsmen come out to draw.
Let it be that the girl to whom I say, 'Please tip over your
jug so that I may drink,' and she replies, 'Drink, and I will
even water you camels!' - her You will have made clear
[as a wife] for your servant, for Yitzchak."
Amazingly, even before having ended his prayer, Rivkah arrives at the
well. The ensuing encounter between Eliezer and Rivkah goes almost
exactly as described, with one noteworthy difference. When Eliezer
asks Rivkah for a drink, she responds (v. 18), "Drink, my master,"
without offering to give his camels to drink. It is only after he finishes
drinking that she offers to water his camels as well. This is seemingly
in contradiction to Eliezer's sign, in which he specifies that the
maiden responds to his request for water by saying, "Drink, and I will
even water your camels!"
Or HaChaim explains that Rivkah did not want to tell Eliezer yet that
she planned to water his camels, because she feared that had he
known, he might drink too quickly or too little, in concern for her
efforts. Therefore she let him think that all she planned to do was
give him a bit of water, so that he would satisfy himself, and only
then did she inform him of her intentions to water the camels as well.
Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l also makes note of this discrepancy
(Sha'alos ve-Teshuvos Igros Moshe, Orach Chaim II, 52). He also
notes that it seemingly would have been more considerate of Rivkah
to inform Eliezer immediately of her intentions to water the camels,
so that he would be able to fully enjoy his own drink, knowing that his
animals would also be taken care of. Why, he asks, did she decline
to tell him of her intentions?
Rav Moshe's younger son, R' Reuven, recalled that as a
young boy of five, he would regularly help an elderly
neighbor carry her firewood up the stairs to her tenement
apartment. "As far as I remember," he once remarked,
"nobody ever told me to do so. It was just something I
knew I should do. Indeed, as children, we were never
taught to perform chessed (kindness). It was simply the
natural thing to do - chessed was a matter of course in our
household. It wasn't something you made a big deal
about." [Artscroll History Series, Reb Moshe, p. 176]
We think, explains R' Moshe, that Rivkah refrained from telling Eliezer
of her plans. No! It's just that it never occurred to her that any other
option existed. Chessed was such an integral part of her personality
that it "went without saying" that she would do anything and
everything she could to assist someone else, no matter how difficult.
Mefarshim (commentators) note that in their first drink, ten camels
would likely consume in excess of 140 gallons of water! Rivkah was
in the middle of her "work day" - there were things to do, and matters
to take care of. For most of us, such an undertaking would, at the
very least, be considered an act of supreme self-sacrifice. For Rivkah
it was a matter of course.
Most ba'alei chessed, notes R' Moshe, take a certain measure of pride
in the chessed they perform. This is natural: Just as the gardener
takes pride in a well-manicured lawn, and the tailor in a well-made
suit, so does the ba'al chessed recognize the great value of his
kindness to others. But the true ba'al chessed takes no pride. It's not
that they're humble and unassuming, but rather that caring for the
needs of others is so much a part of their being that they fail to see
anything noteworthy or remarkable about what they do.
In English, when someone says, "Thank you," we respond with,
"You're welcome." In Yiddish, we say, "S'nisht du far-vuss - there's no
need for thanks!" To be honest, I was always bothered by this
comeback, so much so that even when speaking Yiddish, I would
often revert to the English version. How can we say s'nisht du far-
vuss? Of course s'iz du far-vuss! After all, if there was no reason, they
wouldn't be thanking me, would they? "You're welcome" always
seemed to me to be the more gracious response.
I guess I'm so far removed from Rivkah's level of chessed that I never
realized that there are those for whom performing kindness for others
is so natural and innate, that they honestly fail to understand why one
would even thank and recognize them for what they've done! It's mind
Of course, when we are the recipients of the chessed of others, it
behooves us to acknowledge their kindness and thank them for it.
But as the doers of chessed, we must strive to integrate the trait of
chessed into our character until it becomes a natural and inseparable
part of our being - just as we live and breathe.
Have a good Shabbos.