Quantum Parsha Chayei Sara: Getting Over the Humps
These short posts were inspired and are in honor of the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z’tzl. His own life was transformed when the Lubavitcher Rebbe z’tzl brought out the leader in him and set in motion his becoming one of the luminaries of our generation. He, in turn, spent his entire career crafting leaders with the power of his oratory and the beauty of his writings. Through his Covenant and Conversation series, he spoke to both the internal journey of the Jewish people as individuals and as a nation and the moral challenges of the moment. תהיה נשמתו צרורה בצרור החיים — May his soul be bound up with the Eternity of Life.
Camels are fascinating creatures. They can roam for miles without water, store fat in their humps (not water as is the common misconception) as a means of reserve food, and look rather mischievous when they chew
You have Sally and her famous three humps. There’s the famous Joe Camel, a cigarette mascot so popular that kids in the ’90s had an easier time recognizing him than Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse.
And then there are the Camels of Chayei Sara.
Twice in this week’s Parsha do we come face-to-face with the Lamborghinis of the dessert. The first one to mention camels is Eliezer, the fateful yet ill-fated servant of Avraham Avinu (Abraham) who was sent on an epic Shidduch (matchmaking) mission by his master. Eliezer was tasked with finding a suitable match for Yitzchak (Isaac), the son and scion of his beloved master. Having arrived in Avraham’s birthplace of Haran as per his master’s instructions, Eliezer devises a basic test to filter out only the best match for his young charge. He would approach young ladies at the local watering hole and request a drink of water. The second he came across someone that offered water not only to him but also to his camels, he would instantly know that she was Yitzchak’s destined bride.
When he approached Rivka, she passed with flying colors. At the surface, it seems like Eliezer’s test was a way to gauge Rivka’s commitment to Chesed — charitable giving. Chessed was the only prerequisite for joining the family of Avraham, and her offering to water his camels was a clear indication of her inherent desire to give and share, even with animals.
It goes beyond that. Camels are the animal of choice in this story, and not by chance. In Hebrew, the word גמל means both camel and bestow. It is often used in the context of גמילות חסדים, acts of kindness, one of the pillars of the world. According to the Kli Yakar, Rivka was chosen as Yitzchak’s wife and the second matriarch of the Jewish people because she automatically gravitated to the גמל, to גמילות חסדים, to loving-kindness.
I Deserve Nothing, Please Gift Me Everything
After discussing the preliminaries with her family and enjoying a delicious meal, Eliezer sets off with Rivka in the direction of her soon-to-be husband. The narrative then switches to Yitzchak’s vantage point. We find him emerging from the field where he was engrossed in prayer. Having wrapped up the afternoon prayer of Mincha, Yitzchak looks up and what does he see?
That’s right, camels.
The Kedushat Levi explains the significance of the camels in the context of Yitzchak’s prayer. Yitzchak wasn’t just praying Mincha, he was instituting it as a practice for us nearly 4,000 years later.
Our 3 forefathers co-founded the 3 daily prayers that Jews pray. While the name for the morning prayer and the evening prayer, instituted by Avraham and Ya’akov respectively, literally mean morning and evening, the name ‘Mincha’ is a little bit more cryptic.
To understand Mincha, we must first understand its founder. Whereas Avraham Avinu was the paragon of Chessed, lovingkindness, Yitzchak had an altogether different personality. Yitzchak’s defining trait was that of Gevurah, by-the-book strictness and subjugation. Just last week we read about how he subjugated himself to G-d’s will and agreed to get bounded on the altar. Wearing a Gevurah lens, Yitzchak believed himself unworthy of G-d’s infinite abundance even though he was a model human being. Therefore, his entire mode of service was along the lines of Mincha, which means a gift. When Yitzchak spoke to G-d, he wasn’t asking because he deserved, he was asking for G-d to grant him a Mincha — a gift.
And then he saw the camels carrying his wife-to-be. The camels had come full circle.
Rivka went above and beyond the call of duty with her kindness, gravitating to Eliezer’s camels that represented the trait itself. Yitzchak, meanwhile, was praying for G-d to grant him a gift that he didn’t deserve, the gift of a soulmate.
We often go through the motions of imposter syndrome, feeling as if we don’t deserve the endless bounty G-d has in his briefcase for us. Sometimes it might even be true. But through the גמל, through the acts of charity and kindness we pursue, we may just find the goodness boomeranging in our direction anyway.