Chayei Sarah: Beyond the Call of Duty ~ Tzvi Abrahams
Beyond the Call of Duty
גְמִילַת חַסָדִים (גמ”ח): bestowing kindness
גִימֶל: letter gimel
לְהִגָמַל: to wean
גְמִילַת חַסָדִים (גמ”ח): Bestowing Kindness וְהָיָה הַנַּעֲרָ אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיהָ הַטִּי נָא כַדֵּךְ וְאֶשְׁתֶּה וְאָמְרָה שְׁתֵה וְגַם גְּמַלֶּיךָ אַשְׁקֶה אֹתָהּ הֹכַחְתָּ לְעַבְדְּךָ לְיִצְחָק וּבָהּ אֵדַע כִּי עָשִׂיתָ חֶסֶד עִם אֲדֹנִי
And it shall be that to the young girl that I will say, “Please incline your jug and I will drink,” and she will say, “Drink and also your camels I will give to drink,” she will be worthy for Your servant for Yitzchak and with this I will know that You have done kindness with my master.1
Eliezer was sent on a mission to find a shidduch worthy to be the wife of Yitzchak Avinu. The Kli Yakar says that the key trait he was looking for was גְמִילַת חַסָדִים/bestowing kindness, because this is the prototype middah/character trait from which all other middosare born. Water was therefore a fitting medium through which Rivkah was tested, since water represents chesedin that it flows.2
Here Rivka does more than what is asked from her, which is the definition of חֶסֶד — that which goes beyond the call of duty. And quenching the thirst of ten camels is by no means an easy task; it would be equivalent to filling up ten trucks with fuel using just one jug.
The Torah hints to us this middahof גְמִילַת חַסָדִים through the גָמָל/camel itself. When Adam was given the task of naming the גָמָל, he saw into its very essence that it was designed especially for the task of bestowing kindness to man. With a great capability to conserve water coupled with its distinctive hump-shaped backpack full of fatty food, the camel can travel for many days without the need to fill up, making it the most perfect means of transporting man through the unfriendly terrains of the desert.
InParshasVayishlach, Yaakov sends many types of animals as a gift to his brother Eisav.3The verse distinguishes the camels asגְמָלִים מֵינִיקוֹת/nursing camels, where the wordיוֹנֵק/to nurse symbolizes the giving of life, as more than a child wants to feed the mother wants to nurse.4The rest of the animals listed in the same verse are mentioned without any special descriptive qualities. The camel is therefore singled out to teach us that it has this special giving quality.
גִימֶל: Letter Gimel
In the Gemara, it describes the proximity of the letters to each other, starting with alephandbeis, denoting aleph binah— that first understanding is through the learning of Torah.5By decoding the different arrangements of the letters of the aleph beis, by cracking the code, so to speak, through Torah learning, one comes to discover the very essence of life. They are no ordinary letters, as the power of their combinations caused the universe to come into existence.
Gimel-daletis the next combination, denoting גוֹמֵל דַלִים/supporting the poor. ג-דwhere the gimel/the giver is facing the back of the dalet/the poor person, hinting to us that the best way to give is where the receiver is unaware of the benefactor so he will not be embarrassed.
Another way of interpretation is that first of all one must learn to attainbinah/understanding, then, once he has self-understanding, he will be in a position to teach others, where his talmidimare considered poor, because the real poverty is in the realms of Torah knowledge, and more than a talmidwants to learn, a teacher wants to be gomel chesedand teach.6 הַגוֹמֵל: Gomel
One who has survived a dangerous situation, like a car accident, traveling overseas, a life-threatening illness, or even giving birth,blesses Hashem with the following blessing:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’,אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם,הַגּוֹמֵל לְחַיָּבִים טוֹבוֹת,שֶׁגְּמָלַנִי כָל טוּב
Blessed are You Hashem our G-d, King of the universe, who bestows to the obligated goodness, who bestows to me all good.
The explanation of the blessing given in the Shulchan Aruch is that this blessing thanks Hashem for bestowing upon us kindness even though we are not necessarily worthy of His kindness.7What does it mean that we are not worthy? To try and get a better understanding, let’s take a look at the following pasukin last week’s parshah:
וַיִּגְדַּל הַיֶּלֶד וַיִּגָּמַל וַיַּעַשׂ אַבְרָהָם מִשְׁתֶּה גָדוֹל בְּיוֹם הִגָּמֵל אֶת יִצְחָק
And the child grew and was weaned, and Avraham made a feast on the day Yitzchak was weaned.8
גָמַלin this pasukmeans “weaned.” Rashi says that it was after twenty-four months, when a baby is no longer interested in its mother’s milk. Just like a baby has done nothing to deserve such kindness yet for two years has been nourished by its mother’s milk, so too all the time we are in this world we are sustained by Hashem’s kindness even though we are not yet worthy. The whole purpose of this world is to get to the point where we become worthy to eternal life in the World to Come, so, by definition, as long as we are still in this existence, we have not yet proven ourselves worthy enough.
In the Shemoneh Esrei, we say that Hashem is גוֹמֵל חַסָדִים טוֹבִים,and with this in mind we can get a better understanding of the Mishnah inPirkei Avosthat says that the world stands on three things, one of which isגְמִילַת חַסָדִים,9because for the very reason that we are not yet worthy of standing up on our own two feet, we are in need of Hashem’s kindness without which our world would literally not stand. More than we want to receive chesed, Hashem wants to be gomel chesed.
לְהִגָמַל: To Wean
In this instance of גָמַל, of weaning a baby, we see that bestowing kindness upon a person is to get him to the point where he is self-sufficient, where he can stand up on his own two feet. The greatest tzedakahis to set someone up in business. This concept can be seen in the letter gimelitself — it has two feet: ג!
וַיְשַׁלְּחוּ אֶת רִבְקָה אֲחֹתָם וְאֶת מֵנִקְתָּהּ
And they sent Rivkah their sister and her wet-nurse.10
Later in Bereishis, it mentions the death of Rivkah’s wet-nurse Devorah.11The Targum Yonasantranslates the word מְנִקָתָה/wet-nurse as פֵּדְגוֹג/pedagogue, someone who raises and leads someone. Perhaps the mentioning of Rivkah’s wet-nurse was to hint to us that she played a key role in raising Rivkah to be a ba’alas chesed, that she was appropriately named Devorah, symbolizing the bee who has the ability to produce something sweet and whose honey is somethingטָהוֹרborn out of something טָמֵא. So too it was Devorah who was responsible for producing Rivkah who was טָהוֹר, born out of the house of Lavan, which was very much טָמֵא.
So too we, who are born into a world of tumah, can only come out sweet and tahorif we are יוֹנֵק/nursed and sustained and led by the devorim, the holy words of Hashem’s Torah.
In the Gemara in Brachos, King David sings shirah/song for the kindness that Hashem bestowed upon him when he was nursing from the breasts of his mother.12On a deeper level, the Gemara explains that King David is thanking Hashem for placing the breasts near the heart, which is the place ofbinah/understanding, unlike the animals whose breasts are in the same place as theirervah/nakedness and their excrement.
This fits very nicely with the Gemara in Shabbosquoted above regarding the Hebrew letters, where Aleph Beisstands for aleph binah. First (aleph) is binah/understanding, understanding of the Torah, then comes Gimel Dalim, teaching the poor in Torah knowledge. So too the breasts are in the place of binah; in other words, just like a baby nursing from its mother’s milk is being given life until it can be weaned off and stand alone, so too we are nursing from the breasts of the Torah, the place of binah, and drawing down the life-sustaining waters of the Torah until we reach the point where we can be weaned, where we can stand on our own, where the waters well up from within, where we ourselves become a life-giving source, where we become able to be gomel chesedto others and gomel dalim, teaching Torah to the poor in knowledge, as it says: תּורָה תְּחִלָתָה וְסוֹפָה גְמִילוֹת חַסָדִים/the Torah from its beginning to its end is gemilas chasadim,13where through the Torah the essential chesedis giving man the opportunity to attain eternal reward through his actions. What greater chesedis there than this?14
This is the point where one goes from being bestowed upon to bestowing on others, from being weaned off to being a גִימֶל, to becoming a גָמָל/camel, a nursing gamalwho is גוֹמֵל חֶסֶד like Rivkah Imeinu, and going beyond the call of duty.
2Be’er Mayim Chaim. 3Bereishis 32:16.
7Orach Chaim 219.
9See Avos 1:2.
14Chochmah U’Mussar, see section Kaftor v’Ferach,b’Mesivta; Mishnas Rebbi Aharon, Ma’amarim Sichos Mussar; see also Maharal, Chidushei AgadetostoSotah loc. cit.