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Thought for the Day: The Refined Sensitivity of the Avos

Yesterday during our status meeting, a team member noted that my socks didn't match each other. I replied that as far as I am concerned, socks are to protect one's feet from one's shoes; I have two different feet, so I have no issue with two different socks.  Therefore, it is a waste of time to match the pattern and color.  I did admit that my wife is not of the same opinion, so she now (almost always) buys only black socks for me.  The socks I was wearing was one of her very few mistakes; namely, thinking that I had changed enough in 36 years to care about my socks.  Today, just to prove that I really don't care if they match or not, I wore matching socks (with a pattern).  It took a while to find socks that weren't plain black and that matched, but I felt it was worth the time to prove that I don't waste time on nonsense.  That's one way to work on midos.

The Avos haK'doshim had a somewhat different idea of what's important when it comes to midos.  Chazal note just how important it is carefully observe and learn from the actions of our exalted ancestors.  Almost all of hilchos Shabbos is learned from the fact that immediately after we are told to build the mishkan, we are immediately warned to guard the Shabbos to keep it holy.  From there we learn that the 39 categories of creative labor needed in the construction (and/or running) of the mishkan are also the categories of creative labors forbidden on the Shabbos.  That's it (essentially).  No argument about the number of categories, nor what they are.  There is a small machlokes about whether the categories are based on the building or running of the mishkan, and that translates into a machlokes about whether cooking baked good (ie, putting baked goods into a hot liquid) is permitted or not.  So we don't need a lot of words in the Torah Sh'bichtav to transmit a complex topic accurately.  Even one with such grave consequences and that affects every member of the community on a weekly basis!

On the other hand, when Eliezer -- who was only a slave to Avraham Avinu -- was sent to find a shidduch for Yitzchak Avinu, the Torah Sh'bichtav gives us four iterations of how Eliezer eved Avraham came to choose Rivka Imeinu.  First the Torah tells us Eliezer's t'fila for how events should unfold, then the Torah tells us those events, then the Torah tells us Eliezer's version of his t'fila that he told over to Rivka Imeinu's family, and finally the Torah tells us Eliezer's version of what actually transpired that he told over to Rivka Imeinu's family.  Whew!  It is worth paying close attention to every detail in each of those renditions.

The Beis haLeivi explains one seemingly small point.  When Eliezer saw Rivka, the Torah tells us that he ran over to her (after she had filled her jug from the well to bring home) and asked, "May I please have a sip of water from your jug?"  Strange, no?  Why did he run?  Why only a sip?  Why specifically from the jug?

He ran, so she was still at the well and couldn't easily get a cup.  He asked for only a sip so she couldn't just give him the whole jug.  The entire set up was to put Rivka into the uncomfortable position of being asked to let a complete stranger drink straight from the container that contained the family's water supply.  Would you let stranger in downtown Chicago have a sip from your water bottle?  So now Eliezer has taken a sip straight from the jug and handed it back to her.  What now?  She can't take the dirty water home; she doesn't know where this stranger's mouth has been!  But if she spills it out and refills it, she risks hurting the stranger's feelings.  She also can't just give him the jug; both because she needs it and also because she would again risk hurting his feelings by being obvious about her dismay over the situation.  In that split second, she hit on a brilliant plan: She'll lug about 400 gallons of water back and forth from the well with a big smile on her face.  That way the jug will be thoroughly cleaned, she gets to do a chesed, and she avoids any possibility of the stranger feeling slighted.

That's not just a ba'alas chesed, that's a gomeles chesed; doing chesed in such a way that the recipient doesn't even feel the full extent of the chesed and so feels no shame.  And that's why you can read and re-read the beautiful, elegant, and deceptively simple stories about our exalted ancestors year after year.

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