What an incredible scene: we meet Rebecca, the heir to the Hebraic dynasty, taking charge of her life and the life of all those around her, and the lives of all those who will be her descendants. Rebecca is incredibly powerful and decisive, not leaving things to chance or happenstance. Rebecca makes the world around her happen – in a thoughtful and purposeful way.
It starts with the famous well story, where the servant asks Rebecca for water, as a test, and she responds with offering him and his camels water (Genesis 24:18-19). Actually, for him she can just pour out the water she already has; for his camels, she needs to draw new water. It ends with Rebecca making her own decision that she will go back to Isaac with the servant, and then Yitzchak is comforted by finding a righteous successor to his mother, Sarah.
I always wondered why Rebecca didn’t ask the servant first if he needed water: Why did she wait for him to ask for water first. Indeed, when Rachel and I would invite people over for dinner after services on Friday night or Shabbat morning, we could not just wait till they asked if anyone had a place for them to eat. We had to pro-actively reach out and say: Do you have a place for Shabbat dinner? Do you have a place for lunch? Sometimes they would even answer that they had food in the house, and then we would have to say: Would you still like to come over to our house? Frequently, they would have food, but no company, and they were planning to spend Shabbat afternoon alone, and not excited about that prospect. In fact, when synagogues offer hospitality, it is wonderful to for them to announce that “So and so” is happy to host, but to seal the deal someone – the rabbi, the Rabbanit, the Maharat, or a lay leader – needs to go up to people and really make sure they have a place to eat.
Rebecca waits for the servant to ask, and perhaps that is because she is testing him: Is the servant willing to ask her for her water? Is the servant willing to be vulnerable and show that he needs what she has and he does not have? It is common for people, OK, men, normally, to not want to ask for directions: we want to solve the “lost” problem for ourselves. Of course, I had that issue until WAZE came along and solved my problems. Yet, in so many areas, we don’t want to show we are vulnerable and we lose out. Rebecca wanted to make sure that the type of family she might join would be one which had the humility and self awareness to know that all of us are missing something; all of us are vulnerable and need someone. The righteous servant of Avraham knew to show that, and thus the shidduch was initiated.
Once Rebecca saw that this servant could open up and put down his defenses, not only did she serve his needs, she even made the effort to come up with new water, from the well, to serve his animals, which were more vulnerable than the servant. This was the water that ultimately became the living legacy of our people, the water of life that enabled the Jewish people grow and thrive and change the world.
Of course, all over our tradition water means Torah. And the metaphor holds up beautifully: Rebecca had her Torah, and she was at the well, ready to find more Torah from the living source. Yet in order to release that Torah and to share that Torah and benefit from it, the servant had to show that he needed that Torah, and that he was open to have a woman, a stranger and foreigner bring him that Torah.
Today, so many women have so much Torah to teach us – and so many outside the walls of the Yeshiva and outside of our community have so much wisdom to impart to us. Yet, frequently, we can only get to that incredible Torah and wisdom if we let people know that we are thirsting for it – that the Torah we have is not enough – we need more to add to Hashem’s infinite legacy to the Jewish people. At our Yeshiva we are teaching the next generation of rabbis to understand how to ask for that Torah, how to understand their strengths and needs for more Torah and wisdom, and that they have the power not only to teach people Torah – to pour water for others – but to receive Torah from others as well.
We are blessed in today’s world to have the Rebeccas – men, women, insiders and outsiders – who have Torah and who would love to give that Torah to a world that needs it so badly. Let us make sure we follow the example of the righteous servant: let us ask for that Torah and let us empower those who have it to give some to us, even to bring some Torah from the well. Between the eager servant and the Torah-filled Rebecca, Torah will flow freely in our world, and we will go from be parched to being filled with the sweetness of God’s ultimate gift to the Jewish people.