In this week’s Torah portion “Chayei Sarah,” Abraham wants to take a wife for his son Isaac, and to this end sends his servant Eliezer to his old home country, because Isaac must not marry a Canaanite woman.
And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh, that I may make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” (Genesis 24:2-4)
So Elieser set off with ten camels packed with presents and came to a well just outside the hometown of Abraham’s kin.
And he said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. Behold, aI am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.” (Genesis 24:12-14)
This servant had learned that in Abraham’s house, the most highly valued quality was grace or kindness. In Hebrew this is called chessed (חסד), and it was Abraham’s defining characteristic. Eliezer knew he could find someone of true grace by waiting to see which maiden would offer to water his camels. It would be understandable to offer a stranger something to drink, but also watering their ten camels would for most people be a bit too much. For the house of Abraham, however, any future spouse had to be so full of grace that she would indeed go the extra mile, even for a stranger.
Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, came out with her water jar on her shoulder. The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known. She went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up.
Then the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water to drink from your jar.” She said, “Drink, my lord.” And she quickly let down her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink.
When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw water, and she drew for all his camels. The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the Lord had prospered his journey or not. (Genesis 24:15-21)
Rebekka passed this test, which was far from easy. How much water must one draw from a well until ten camels have had their fill? It was certainly hard work for a young girl and, accordingly, Elieser was pleased with the outcome of his very specific and difficult test.
The man bowed his head and worshiped the Lord and said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the Lord has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.” (Genesis 24:26-27)
The love story between Rebekah and Isaac has a happy ending, because although the two did not know one another, they did indeed fall in love.
Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death. (Genesis 24:67)
There is much to learn from this story, but arguably the two most important lessons are the need for reliance on God’s guidance–at the beginning of his mission, Eliezer prays for success and then thanked God for the outcome–and that the most important quality in a good wife is grace, a good heart.