Parasha Chayai Sarah and the Value of Kindness

By Mira Sinick

November 23, 2019

         Chayai Sarah means the Life of Sarah. However, Parasha Chayai Sarah begins with the death of Sarah at 127 years old. Abraham had the task of securing a burial site for Sarah in the land he then dwelled in, as a foreigner In Canaan. The portion continues with Abraham requesting that his servant return to the land of his birthplace to choose a wife for his son Isaac; and the portion concludes with Abraham fathering more children with his new wife, Keturah, and finally his own death and burial.

Chayei Sarah is packed with life cycle events; death and burial, marriage and birth.

After negotiating the Cave of Machpelah as the burial place for Sarah, Abraham commanded his servant to return to the land of his birthplace to choose a wife for Isaac from amongst those from where he came. Clearly, Sarah, the matriarch, needed to be replaced, but why did Abraham wait until her death before seeking a partner for Isaac?

His servant, presumably Eliezer, although it’s not explicitly stated in this portion, had the daunting task of finding a suitable wife for Isaac.

This matchmaking brings up many questions for me. Why did Abraham leave such an important task to his servant rather to his own son Isaac or to himself? And why wasn’t a woman from the Canaanites good enough for Isaac?

Eliezer prayed and asked God to guide him, but he also set up his own guidelines for choosing an appropriate woman. In Genesis, chapter 24, line 14, Eliezer spoke to God and said, “ Let it be that the young woman to whom I say ‘Pray, tip down your jug that I may drink,’ If she says ‘Drink, and your camels too, I shall water, she it is whom You have marked for Your servant, for Isaac, and by this I shall know that you have done kindness with my master.

And magically Rebekah appeared at the well, and not only kindly responded to his request for water, but offered to draw water for his ten camels.

Although we later learn that Rebekah had many favorable qualities, Eliezer had chosen this attribute of kindness, of going above and beyond, to be appropriate as a character trait in a potential wife.

Such a simple thing…kindness. How many of us can say that kindness was the quality that drove us in selecting our own mates? Today many young people site intelligence, beauty, wealth, ambition, chemistry, or education as more necessary. Indeed, Abraham Joshua Heschel has said, “when I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I’m old, I admire kind people.”

When we choose a life partner we expect that union to last through young and old. We live in a brutal world, often competing for housing, jobs or mates. We sometimes forget how an act of kindness can lift one’s spirits and make a difference in the world. Anne Frank recorded in her diary, “How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment. We can start changing the world. And you can always give something, even if it’s only kindness.”

Our search for kindness is no less strong today than during Biblical times. This week, the Salt Lake Tribune headlined a movie review, as “Tom Hanks channels the kindness of Mr. Rogers.” Mr. Rogers was noted for his kindness to children in his television series, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. He is remembered as saying “There are three things to ultimate success. The first one is to be kind. The second one is to be kind and the third one is to be kind.”

The Jewish concept of a mitzvah is used colloquially to mean a good deed or an act of kindness. Judaism teaches us in Pirkei Avot, that “the world is built on kindness”. Kabbalistic teachings see hesed, loving kindness, as the first of seven divine emotional attributes; but to be effective, kindness must be balanced and considered.

Earlier this month, November 13 was observed as World Kindness Day. Many countries and cultures besides Judaism promote kindness. World Kindness Day is a day to celebrate the importance of being kind and to be inspired to do something kind that you wouldn’t normally do. Perhaps this is why our congregation sponsored a mitzvah day earlier that week.

But performing acts of kindness doesn’t need to be reserved for one day in the year. Acts of kindness should be spontaneous, yet part of our everyday practice.

Offering Eliezer and his camels water, to quench their thirst, was not a premeditated act, but one that came naturally to Rebekah.

But for many, kindness needs to be practiced. My drawing instructor at City College encourages and gives the most constructive feedback during critique and has taught me much about kindness. On another day, my yoga instructor kindly provided a light assist during a pose and I felt bathed in love.

It’s difficult to show kindness if you are not receiving it. It’s okay to be kind to yourself. Kindness is contagious. When our cups are filled, we can do more and give more. The next opportunity you have – and there are many – show kindness, to your spouse, a neighbor, a stranger.