Parshas Chayei Sarah
Are We 'On the List'?
Eliezer, faithful servant of Avraham, is sent on a mission; to find a
kallah (bride) for Yitzchok. She must fill the void left by the death of
He asks for a sign from Heaven. “Hashem, G-d of my master Avraham, please
arrange it for me today, and do kindness with my master Avraham… Let it be
that the maiden to whom I say, ‘Please tip your jug and I will drink,’ and
she says, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels as well,’ let her be the
designated (kallah) of Yitzchok.” (24:12-14)
Just after he finishes praying his wishes are seemingly answered. Rivkah
arrives at the well. She fills her jug, and Eliezer asks her for a drink.
She gives him to drink, and waters his camels as well. It seems like a
done deal. Yet Eliezer still seems unsure. “The man marvelled at her; he
silently reflected, wondering whether Hashem would make his journey
successful or not. (21)”
When she finishes, he takes bracelets and rings and gives them to her.
Rashi understands these are a form of betrothal. He questions why Eliezer
would betroth her before verifying that she was Avraham’s relative (this
had been a stipulation)? He answers that at this point Eliezer was already
sure; his sign had come true. But the Torah seems to say otherwise: “He
silently reflected, wondering whether Hashem would make his journey
successful or not.” Indeed, Ralbag differs with Rashi and contends that
the jewellery was merely payment for her kindness, albeit a generous one.
After verifying that she is indeed family, Eliezer then asks her if they
have room for him to stay a night. She replies, “We even have plenty of
straw and feed, as well as place to lodge!” “So the man (Eliezer) bowed
down and prostrated himself to Hashem. He said, ‘Blessed is Hashem, G-d of
my master Avraham, Who has not withheld His kindness and truth from my
This passage (coupled with the fact that Eliezer was still ‘wondering’)
seem to clearly indicate that for some reason, Eliezer abandoned his
original sign and was waiting for something else. What? If it was only to
verify her family, he should have bowed and thanked Hashem as soon as that
point had been clarified. It is only after she offers him lodging and feed
for his animals that he seems ready. Why did the conditions change, and
what was it that finally convinced him to close the deal?
The holy Rebbe, R’ Ber of Radoshitz zt”l was one of the great disciples of
the Maggid of Koznitz zt”l. He later became a leader in his own right.
During his years in Koznitz, there was a friend, R’ Hersh, with whom he
was especially close. It was thus with great pleasure that many years
later, R’ Hersh suddenly arrived in Radoshitz for an unexpected visit.
After catching up on times passed, R’ Hersh got to the point: ”Baruch
Hashem, my oldest daughter is engaged to be married. However, I have not
the means to pay for her wedding, let alone cover her dowry. The holy
Rebbe, the Maggid, has given me a letter; he asks anyone who can to help
R’ Ber couldn’t help noticing the tear glistening in his friend’s eye. It
saddened him to see R’ Hersh, a man of great distinction, brought to
wandering from town to town asking for handouts. Yet what was he to do? R’
Ber himself subsisted on a minimal budget.
“My dear friend, were it that I had any spare money, I would not withhold
from you my last coin. Alas, I have not even one coin to give you.
Furthermore, everyone here knows me and my situation—I deserve no great
honour, and am not given any. If I were to go around collecting for you,
they would give me small change at best. I feel it is best that you
collect yourself; your manner bears witness to your great stature. There
is a wealthy man in Radoshitz, and I pray he will give you generously…”
R’ Hersh hid his disappointment. “Okay, thanks all the same. I guess your
name doesn’t appear on the list! Peace to you.” And with that he left.
“My name doesn’t appear on the list?” R’ Ber wondered. “What list? What
did he mean?” He tried to get his friend’s comment out of his mind, but
his thoughts kept returning to it. He put on his coat, and started running
after R’ Hersh. He caught up with him a few minutes later.
“R’ Hersh—stop! I must ask you: What list were you talking about?”
“Oh,” he said, “when I approached the holy Maggid, and he gave me my
letter, I said, ‘Rebbe, I’ve never done this before—I don’t know how to
ask people for money!’ The Rebbe told me, ‘R’ Hersh, don’t worry. Each
town you arrive in, someone will approach you and help you collect. You
will not have to beg for yourself.’ ‘But why would someone want to suffer
the shame of begging on my behalf—who am I to deserve such treatment?’ I
asked. ‘Don’t worry,’ the Maggid told me. ‘Hashem has a list. On His list
it’s already written down exactly who will help you in each town. All you
have to do is go…’
“When I came to Radoshitz, I thought to myself, ‘Whose name could be on
Hashem’s list?’ I could think of no-one here more worthy than you, so I
was sure you were on the list. That’s why I came to you. When you weren’t
able to help me, I figured you weren’t on Hashem’s list. Perhaps that
wealthy man you told me about, maybe he’s the one…”
R’ Ber was obviously affected by his words. “Tell me—how much do you need?”
“Four hundred gulden.”
“Come, let’s see what happens.” R’ Ber took his letter and began walking
through the marketplace. Seeing a familiar face, he approached a merchant
and, showing him the letter, he asked if he could help his friend. “R’
Ber, you’ve arrived at a most opportune moment. I just completed a very
profitable deal—today I made 4,000 gulden. Take 400 gulden—it’s my tithe!”
R’ Ber was taken aback. After thanking the merchant, he sat down on a
bench with his friend. His eyes filled with tears. “I guess I was on
Hashem’s list after all—but I almost lost my chance!”
Or HaChaim ha-kadosh writes that this was Eliezer’s approach. “Hashem, G-d
of my master Avraham, please arrange it for me today…” He knew, writes the
Or HaChaim, that Avraham’s prayers would be answered. He asked only that
he should have the merit to have this crucial shidduch come about through
his efforts. (Mayan HaShavua)
Often we think that when we do mitzvos we’re somehow doing Hashem a
favour. Especially when we help others, we feel we’ve filled some void. Of
course we realize that Hashem doesn’t need our mitzvos in any way, but
still we feel smug for having done the right thing, and helped out when
there was no one else to help.
From this story we see that the true approach is precisely the opposite. A
mitzvah is an opportunity. Someone is going to chap (grab) it. Hashem
doesn’t need you to do it; He has plenty of other ways to get things
accomplished. But if you like, you can grab the chance and get your name
on His list.
When someone comes to our door and asks for a donation, especially if we
gave generously, we expect some form of gratitude. In fact, we should
thank him profusely for giving us the opportunity to do such a great
This was very clear to Eliezer. He had no doubt learned it from his
master, Avraham. It was thus a quality which he looked for in Yitzchok’s
kallah—not only that she do mitzvos and kindness, but that she appreciate
them as a treasure, rather than a burden or an obligation. His ‘sign’ that
she was such a person was that when asked to do some kindness, she would
respond by offering more than she had been asked for. Only one who truly
treasures mitzvos gives even more than requested.
When he asked her for a drink, she gave him, but she did not offer his
camels. Although she ultimately give them as well, he was still not
convinced; perhaps she noticed they were thirsty, and only then thought of
giving them to drink.
He continued to wait. Only after he asked to stay the night, and she
responded by offering long-term lodging, as well as feeding his camels—
both things he never asked for—did he know she was the one. She knew the
secret of ‘the list,’ and she wanted her name there. Only then did Eliezer
bow to Hashem.
It is told that there was a period of three months during which the holy
R’ Zusia of Anipoli zt”l had no means to earn a living and was literally
starving. There was no one around that had the merit to chap the mitzvah,
so Hashem arranged he should be fed in a miraculous fashion. Let us never
smugly think, “It’s lucky I was around to do the mitzvah,” but
rather, “How lucky I am to have had this opportunity! My name was on The
Have a good Shabbos.
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Torah.org