Abraham and Rebecca demonstrate justice, kindness

BY RABBI BRAD HORWITZ

Justice, tzedek, and kindness, chesed, are two quintessential Jewish values that are front and center in this week’s Torah portion, chayei sarah.

At the beginning of the parashah Abraham embodies amazing justice, for when Abraham’s wife Sarah dies, he arranges for her burial by asking certain property owners in the land of Canaan to purchase land where the cave of Makhpelah is found.

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Sensing Abraham’s special relationship with God, the property owners are willing to give Abraham the choicest land without any payment and seemingly no strings attached.

Despite this, Abraham does what is right and insists on paying for it for the fair market value, if not more. Only then does he bury Sarah.

What an incredible display of justice that Abraham would refrain from personal gain for the sake of the rights of the property owners and in honor of his wife, Sarah.

Later in the parashah, Abraham sends his servant Eliezer on a quest to find a wife for his son Isaac.

He encounters Rebecca, who acts with supreme kindness in offering him and his camels water to drink.

She is gracious, hospitable and kind to Eliezer who is a mere stranger to her. One commentary suggests that Rebecca was so kind that she consciously chose not to give water to the camels one by one, for she would not want to choose which one to give first and cause the others to wait.

Rather, Rebecca chose to keep running to the well, drawing water, and pouring the water into the trough, so that all the camels could drink at once. Physically, this was a much more demanding way to provide water for the camels.

As a result of Rebecca’s kindness, Eliezer knows that Rebecca is destined to marry Isaac and the marriage is arranged.

Both Abraham and Rebecca acted in a way where they did more than was asked and the situation required.

They went above and beyond.

Upon reflection of their acts, one might think: How would I behave in similar circumstances?

If someone, out of respect, offered me something valuable that I desired at no cost, would I insist on paying for it as Abraham did?

Would I behave as Rebecca, who went out of her way to show kindness to a total stranger?

I would hope the answer to those questions woulde be yes, but either way let us all commit ourselves this Shabbat to act with just a little more tzedek and a little more chesed. In this way we will be living the values of the Torah and helping to improve our lives and the community we live in.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Brad Horwitz is Director of the Jewish Community Center’s Helene Mirowitz Department of Jewish Community Life and President of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.