Parashat Chayei-Sara tells the well-known story of Avraham’s servant – identified by Chazal as Eliezer – who was charged with the responsibility of finding a suitable wife for Yitzchak from Avraham’s hometown, Aram Naharayim. Upon reaching the well outside the city, the servant prayed that God should arrange it that the suitable girl would be the one who responds to his request for water by offering water to both him and his animals. He approached Rivka, the daughter of Yitzchak’s cousin, Betuel, and requested water, and Rivka indeed responded by offering water even to his animals.
A careful reading of the text reveals that Rivka actually exceeded the servant’s expectations. Eliezer envisioned a girl who would respond to his request by saying, “Drink, and I will also give [water] for your camels to drink” (24:14). But when he asked Rivka for water, she responded, “Drink, my master” (24:18) and then gave him the water in her pitcher. After he finished drinking, Rivka drew water for his camels and poured it into the trough for them to drink. Rivka’s response exceeded the servant’s hopes in two respects. First, rather than just say, “Drink,” she said, “Shetei adoni” – “Drink, my master.” Rivka addressed Eliezer – a foreigner, and a servant – with respect and dignity. Moreover, rather than immediately express her willingness to provide water for the servant’s camels, she first offered him water and waited for him to finish drinking. Then she proceeded to draw water for camels. This, too, likely reflects a heightened sensitivity and greater degree of refinement. Rivka did not give the servant water together with his animals. She treated him like a distinguished person, giving him water of his own from her very own pitcher, and only then poured water into the trough for the animals.
Rivka’s response reminds us that kindness extends beyond the practical benefit provided to those in need. It requires not only practical assistance, but also affording people the respect and dignity they deserve. People in need of help are emotionally vulnerable and insecure. We must provide them not only the “water” that they lack, but also kind, respectful words – “Shetei adoni” – that provide them the emotional support and reassurance that they desperately need.
(Based on an article by Rav Amnon Bazak)