The story of Eliezer’s challenge is a familiar one. Abraham sends Eliezer on a mission to find a suitable wife for Isaac. How, though, could Eliezer be secure in the knowledge that the woman he chose would indeed measure up to the required standards? The key trait Eliezer was looking for was gemilut chasadim, acts of kindness – the prototype character trait from which all others are born.
To ensure that he would find the right woman, Eliezer came up with a plan. Hence the famous “camel test”. After his long travels, Eliezer would ask a young maiden for a drink of water, and if she offered to provide water for his camels as well, she would be the one! Rebecca does more than what is asked of her and goes beyond the call of duty.
Rebecca immediately gave Eliezer a drink, then offered and drew water for all his camels. She saw an opportunity to do something kind, and swiftly went to work, filling multiple troughs with water, until the job of satisfying a whole herd of thirsty camels was completed. She had one motivation: an act of kindness.
The Torah hints at this quality of gemilut chasadim (גמילות חסדים) through the root word for camel (גמל). When Adam was given the task of naming the camel, he saw into its very essence that it was designed especially for the task of bestowing kindness. With the capacity to conserve water, coupled with its distinctive hump-shaped backpack full of fatty food, the camel can travel for many days without the need to fill up, making it the perfect means of transport through the inhospitable desert terrain. We have a further link with the root גמל in our daily prayers when we say גומל חסדים טובים, thanking G-d who bestows acts of loving-kindness.
In Sedra Vayishlach, Jacob sends many types of animals as a gift to Esau. The verse distinguishes the camels as gemalim menikot, milk camels, where the root word yonek (to nurse) symbolizes the giving of life. The rest of the animals listed in the same verse are mentioned – but without any special descriptive qualities. The camel is the only animal singled out to teach us that it has this special giving quality. Rebecca shows the same giving quality, as she conducts herself in what she would have considered an ordinary everyday activity. She teaches us to be initiators, to look for times and places where we can be of service, and to be proactive and useful.
Eliezer comes up with a test to find the right wife for Isaac. Do you ever come up with tests and what do they reveal about yourself and others?