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Chayei Sarah: Lessons in Kindness

Every Friday before Shabbat begins, we play Shabbat music. It definitely helps us to get into the spirit of Shabbat! One of the videos we watch is the "Leil Shabbat Medley" by Micha Gamerman. In the video one of Micha’s daughters sees a man sitting outside on the bench alone and she asks her father whether they can invite him in. Micha responds “Of course” and afterwards they all engage in song. Another thing that sticks out from this video is when Micha says “this beautiful Shabbat table is only possible thanks to your mother.” We sing Eishet Chayil, A Woman of Valor, every Friday night before we make Kiddush. It recognizes the hard work that the woman of the household does for her home. Mrs. Lori Palatnik wrote in her blog "The Jewish woman. In whose merit will come the Messiah and the final redemption of the Jewish people". I would definitely recommend this video to add to your Shabbat preparation! How fitting that this week we’ll honor one of the many Eishet Chayil, Sarah.

I love the story of Stephen Carter! He was eleven years old in 1966. He and his family were black and moved into an all-white neighborhood in Washington. There he sat on his front steps with his two brothers and two sisters waiting to see what would happen. For a while, nobody smiled them or greeted them. Years later he wrote “I knew we were not welcome here. I knew we would not be liked here. I knew we would have no friends here. I knew we should not have moved here . . .”

As he was thinking those thoughts, a woman coming home from work passed by on the other side of the street. She turned to the children with a smile and said “Welcome!” Next, she went into her house and came out with a tray of drinks and sandwiches, making them feel at home. That moment changed his life! It broke down the barrier that existed at the time between races and allowed strangers to become friends. At that moment, Stephen grew in one of the 8F’s: Friendship.

Stephen Carter became a law professor at Yale and later wrote a book called Civility. The name of the woman was Sara Kestenbaum. Stephen writes “Chessed- acts of kindness which in turn is derived from the understanding that human beings are made in the image of G-d.” Civility, he adds “itself may be seen as part of Chessed: it does indeed require kindnesses toward our fellow citizens, including the ones who are strangers, and even when it is hard.”

In this week’s Parasha, Chayei Sarah, Sarah dies, and Avraham mourns for her, then searches for a place to bury her. Our custom in Judaism is to show respect for the dead. Avraham went to Ephron, the Hittite and requested that he sell him the cave Hamachpelah (Ma’arat Hamachpelah) to bury Sarah. (Bereishit 23:9). Ephron sold it to him for a hefty price of 400 silver shekels.

וְיִתֶּן־לִ֗י אֶת־מְעָרַ֤ת הַמַּכְפֵּלָה֙ אֲשֶׁר־ל֔וֹ אֲשֶׁ֖ר בִּקְצֵ֣ה שָׂדֵ֑הוּ בְּכֶ֨סֶף מָלֵ֜א יִתְּנֶ֥נָּה לִּ֛י בְּתוֹכְכֶ֖ם לַאֲחֻזַּת־קָֽבֶר

Later in the Parasha, Avraham focuses on finding a wife for his son, Yitzchak. He gives Eliezer, his servant instructions regarding who the woman ought to be. She must be from Charan, not Canaan. Eliezer goes to Charan with ten camels, gold, and silver. He sat down with the camels by the well and prayed to G-d saying “And he said, “O LORD, God of my master Abraham, grant me good fortune this day, and deal graciously with my master Abraham. Here I stand by the spring as the daughters of the townsmen come out to draw water; let the maiden to whom I say, ‘Please, lower your jar that I may drink,’ and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels’—let her be the one whom You have decreed for Your servant Isaac. Thereby shall I know that You have dealt graciously with my master (Bereishit 24:12-14).”

 וַיֹּאמַר֓ | יְהֹוָ֗ה אֱלֹהֵי֙ אֲדֹנִ֣י אַבְרָהָ֔ם הַקְרֵה־נָ֥א לְפָנַ֖י הַיּ֑וֹם וַֽעֲשֵׂה־חֶ֕סֶד עִ֖ם אֲדֹנִ֥י אַבְרָהָֽם

הִנֵּ֛ה אָנֹכִ֥י נִצָּ֖ב עַל־עֵ֣ין הַמָּ֑יִם וּבְנוֹת֙ אַנְשֵׁ֣י הָעִ֔יר יֹצְאֹ֖ת לִשְׁאֹ֥ב מָֽיִם

וְהָיָ֣ה הַֽנַּעֲרָ֗ אֲשֶׁ֨ר אֹמַ֤ר אֵלֶ֙יהָ֙ הַטִּי־נָ֤א כַדֵּךְ֙ וְאֶשְׁתֶּ֔ה וְאָמְרָ֣ה שְׁתֵ֔ה וְגַם־גְּמַלֶּ֖יךָ אַשְׁקֶ֑ה אֹתָ֤הּ הֹכַ֙חְתָּ֙ לְעַבְדְּךָ֣ לְיִצְחָ֔ק וּבָ֣הּ אֵדַ֔ע כִּי־עָשִׂ֥יתָ חֶ֖סֶד עִם־אֲדֹנִֽי

He wanted to find someone who was kind. He barely finished praying when Rivkah approached the well. She was the daughter of Betuel, and the granddaughter of Avraham’s brother, Nachor. She gave water to Eliezer and also drew water for all of his camels. According to Rashi, Eliezer was wondering whether this was really successful or not. He didn’t know this was a girl from Avraham’s family. Once the camels finished drinking, Eliezer took the gold nose ring, and two gold bands and gave them to Rivkah. Finally, Eliezer asks who her parents are and whether there is room to spend the night. Rikvah ran to her house and told her family about Eliezer. Her brother, Lavan, ran out to greet Eliezer. Eliezer explained to them why he was there.

Eliezer explains that G-d blessed Avraham. He explicitly didn’t mention Chessed at all. He mentions all of the riches that Avraham acquired. Eliezer knew that Rivkah’s family was not impressed by kindness, they were impressed by wealth (Bereishit 24:35).

וַיהֹוָ֞ה בֵּרַ֧ךְ אֶת־אֲדֹנִ֛י מְאֹ֖ד וַיִּגְדָּ֑ל וַיִּתֶּן־ל֞וֹ צֹ֤אן וּבָקָר֙ וְכֶ֣סֶף וְזָהָ֔ב וַעֲבָדִם֙ וּשְׁפָחֹ֔ת וּגְמַלִּ֖ים וַחֲמֹרִֽים

Eliezer knew that G-d blessed her with the right woman because she was truly kind. Though, she grew up in a world of idolatry, she had a special spark just like Avraham. Rivkah agreed to go with Eliezer. Yitzchak brought Rikvah into his mother’s tent and she became his wife. Avraham later dies and Yitzchak and Yishmael bury him in Ma’arat Hamachpelah.

As Rabbi Sacks wrote “kindness brings redemption to the world and, as in the case of Stephen Carter, it can change lives.” How many of us have been touched by an act of kindness? How different would our world be if there was more kindness? Og Mandino said “beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness, and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.” Begin today and may we merit the opportunity to change our lives and bring our full redemption!


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