"And Avraham was old, well advanced in age, and Hashem had blessed Avraham in everything." (Beresheit 24:1)
The Torah tells us that Hashem blessed Avraham in all ways. Nachmanides explains that Avraham had a son. He had wealth and honor. He had achieved old age. There seems to be one blessing omitted from this list. Did Avraham have a daughter? Nachmanides responds to this question. He bases his comments on a discussion in the Talmud. He explains that the Sages dispute this issue. According to Rebbe Meir, Avraham did not have a daughter. Rebbe Yehudah argues that Avraham did have a daughter. A third opinion in the Talmud even provides us with the daughter's name. What is the basis of this dispute between Rebbe Meir and Rebbe Yehudah? Rebbe Yehudah's reasoning seems obvious. The pasuk states that Avraham was blessed in all ways. Rebbe Yehudah concludes that this implies that Avraham had a daughter. Rebbe Meir's opinion is more difficult to understand. If Avraham did not have a daughter, he was not blessed in every way! Nachmanides explains that typically a daughter is a blessing. However, Avraham's situation was not typical. He was the founder of a new, radical philosophy and religion. Very few people fully accepted Avraham's views. He lived in a world dominated by backward heathen beliefs, superstitions and practices. He confronted this issue in searching for a wife for Yitzchak.
He commanded his servant to travel to Aram Naharayim to seek a wife for Yitzchak. The people of Aram Naharayim were idolaters. Yet, Avraham felt that these people were not as primitive as the nations of Canaan. He decided that Yitzchak could find a suitable wife among the citizens of Aram Naharayim. Yitzchak would be able to teach this woman and establish a family committed to serving Hashem. This plan would be far more difficult to execute on behalf of a daughter. Would Avraham be able to find a suitable husband? Would she be able to influence this man to abandon his culture? This would be unlikely in a male dominated society. How could a daughter of Avraham have a happy family life, free of idolatry? Rebbe Meir concludes that Avraham was spared these problems. He did not have a daughter. In his situation, this was a blessing. Now that we understand Rebbe Meir's reasoning, Rebbe Yehudah's argument is not so convincing. How can Rebbe Yehudah insist that a comprehensive blessing must include a daughter? Rebbe Meir has demonstrated that a daughter would have created a dilemma for Avraham. In order to understand this dispute, we must return to an earlier incident.
Hashem commanded Avraham to leave his homeland and travel to a new land. Hashem promised Avraham that He would bless him. What was the purpose of this blessing? The most obvious possibility is that the blessing was Avraham's personal reward for obeying the Almighty. However, there is another possible explanation of this blessing. The blessing was not a personal reward for Avraham. It was designed to demonstrate to the world Hashem's providence over His servants. It seems that Rebbe Meir and Rebbe Yehudah are debating this very issue. According to Rebbe Meir, the blessing was Avraham's personal reward. Therefore, the specific manifestations of the blessing were based upon Avraham's specific needs. Avraham needed a son. However, a daughter would have created a dilemma. The blessing conformed to Avraham's specific situation. He was granted a son and not a daughter. Rebbe Yehudah agrees that a daughter would have presented tremendous problems for Avraham. However, he argues that this is irrelevant. The blessing was not designed as a reward for Avraham. It was a demonstration to the world. Through the blessing, Hashem displayed the extent of His providence. This required that Avraham have a daughter. It must appear to the world that Avraham's life was perfect and that he possessed every blessing. This could only be accomplished through granting Avraham a daughter.
"And the young woman to whom I will say, "Tip your jug so that I may drink," and she will say, "Drink, and I will also water your camels," she is the one you have indicated for your servant Yitzchak. And through her I will know that you have acted kindly with my master." (Beresheit 24:14)
Avraham sends his servant Eliezer to Aram Naharayim to seek a wife for Yitzchak. Eliezer arrives at Aram Naharayim. He develops a plan to find a proper wife for Yitzchak. Eliezer devises a test. He will wait at the well for the young women to come draw water for their families. He will approach various young women. He will ask each to share some water with him. He will look for a specific response. He seeks a woman that will agree to share her water with him and will also water his camels. As soon as Eliezer completes the formulation of his plan, Rivka approaches. Eliezer asks her for water. She readily agrees and, without solicitation, offers to water his camels. Eliezer knows that this woman deserves consideration. She may be the appropriate wife for Yitzchak. Rashi explains that Eliezer was seeking a woman who possessed the characteristic of kindness chesed. Eliezer's test was designed to identify this characteristic. It follows that from his test, we can extract Eliezer's definition of kindness.
Let us analyze the test devised by Eliezer. The test required that the woman perform two acts. First, she must respond positively to Eliezer's request for water. Second, she must make an unsolicited offer to provide water for his camels. Clearly, this unsolicited offer is also essential to identifying the characteristic of chesed. What does this behavior reveal to us about chesed? Chesed is not merely responding to the requests of another. Chesed requires that we look beyond the individual's requests. We must evaluate the actual needs of the person. Rivka demonstrated this behavior. Eliezer asked for water for himself. Many people would respond positively to such a request. However, this response by itself does not exemplify chesed. Chesed requires taking the next step. Rivka asked herself, "What else does this traveler need?" She realized that he also needed water for his camels. She immediately offered to provide this water.
Rivka again demonstrates this same attribute of chesed later in the encounter. Eliezer asks Rivka if there is any space in her father's home for him to lodge. Rivka answered that there is room. However, she does not stop with this positive response to Eliezer's question. She realizes that Eliezer has other needs that he has not mentioned. She immediately adds that these needs will also be met. Eliezer will be provided with straw and fodder. Eliezer had not asked for straw and fodder. However, this is the very essence of chesed. Rivka identified the needs of Eliezer and addressed these needs, and not merely Eliezer's stated requests.
"These were the sons of Yishmael. And these were the names given to their towns and encampments. There were twelve princes for their nation." (Beresheit 25:16.)
The parasha ends with a discussion of Yishmael and his descendants. Why is this discussion included in the Torah? The Torah tells the story of Bnai Yisrael. Why is the history of Yishmael included? This same question applies to the Torah's treatment of Esav and his descendants. In Parshat VaYishlach, the Torah discusses at length Esav's descendants. Why is this discussion included in the Torah? At the simplest level, these discussions demonstrate the fulfillment of Hashem's promises regarding Yishmael and Esav. Hashem promised Hagar that Yishmael, her son, would be the progenitor of a great nation. This promise was also communicated to Avraham. Similarly, Hashem revealed to Rivka that Esav would be the source of a nation. These discussions show that Yishmael and Esav did produce nations. The promises were fulfilled.
Rav Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik Ztl the GRIZ offers a further explanation of these discussions. Maimonides explains that only the descendants of Yaakov Bnai Yisrael are the spiritual heirs of Avraham. In other words, although the descendants of Yishmael and Esav are the biological progeny of Avraham, they are not his spiritual heirs. This is because Hashem had foretold Avraham that his children would experience exile. This certainly occurred to Bnai Yisrael. We were exiled to Egypt. However, the descendants of Yishmael and Esav never experienced exile. Only Bnai Yisrael experienced the fate reserved for Avraham's heirs. This indicates that we are the true spiritual descendants of Avraham. Based on these comments, the GRIZ explains these portions of the Torah. The discussion of Yishmael and his descendants indicates that they achieved permanent possession of their territories. They did not experience exile. Similarly, the discussion of Esav describes the lands conquered by Esav's children and their permanent settlement of these lands. The Torah is telling us that neither of these nations experienced exile. Therefore, they cannot be defined as Avraham's heirs.
Mesechet Baba Batra 141a.
Rabbaynu Moshe ben Nachman (Ramban / Nachmanides), Commentary on Sefer Beresheit 24:1.
Rabbaynu Shlomo ben Yitzchak (Rashi), Commentary on Sefer Bersheit 24:14.
Sefer Beresheit, chapter 36. Sefer Beresheit, 16:10.
Sefer Beresheit, 21:13.
Sefer Beresheit, 25:23.
Sefer Beresheit, 15:13.
Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Commentary on the Mishne, Mesechet Nedarim, 3:9.
Rav Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik, Chidushai MaRan RIZ HaLeyve on the Torah, Parshat Chayai Sara.