Water, Words and Respect
Our sages directed attention to the Bible’s detailed description of Abraham’s servant’s fulfillment of his mission to find a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24). Our teachers taught that “the small talk of the servants of the patriarchs is more beautiful than the Torah of their descendants” (Rashi 24:42). Each and every element of this passage is brimming with insight into those qualities for which God chose the patriarchs. In the space of this brief article let us attempt to draw some lessons from one facet of this episode.
When the servant speaks to God he describes the bride whom he is seeking for Isaac as the one who will respond to his request for water with the words, “Drink, and I will also give your camels to drink” (verse 14). Yet when Rebecca actually meets the servant she does not respond exactly as the servant expected. Rebecca responds to the servant’s request with two words, “Drink, my master” (verse 18). Only after the servant has finished drinking does she tells him that she will also draw water for his camels (verse 19).
We can perhaps understand Rebecca’s terse response with the principle of “the righteous say little but do a lot). There was no need for Rebecca to announce her righteous intentions before she was ready to fulfill them.
There may be another factor that also influenced Rebecca’s decision to limit her words when she spoke to the servant.
When someone asks you for a drink, you never know how thirsty they are. This is not the time to say an extra word. Rebecca understood that when someone asks for water you give it to them as quickly as possible. If she would have spoken to him about her intentions to give water to his camels she would have prolonged his thirst for an extra few seconds.
This explanation still does not fully explain the verse in question. After everything is said and done Rebecca did add a seemingly unnecessary word into her speech before she actually gave the servant to drink. She said “Drink, my master”. Isn’t the word “adoni,” “my master”, superfluous? If the servant was suffering from thirst she could have saved a bit of his suffering by limiting her speech to one word, “sh’tei”, “drink”.
Perhaps we can see from here that people need respect more than they need water. The respect for one who is created in the image of God that is inherent in the words “my master” satisfied a more important need than the body’s need for water. By entitling the servant with the words “my master” Rebecca gave a different connotation to the act of kindness. This was not merely an act of satisfying a physical need. By honoring the servant with that one word Rebecca turned her act into an act of respect toward one who is created in the image of God.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal