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Tuesday
Nov032015

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF OVERPROMISING

THE DISCREPANCY

Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, was sent by his master to find a suitable wife for his master’s son, Isaac.

When he arrives at his destination he offers the following prayer to G-d:

…Please let something happen to me today and do kindness to my master, Abraham. Look, I am standing by the water well. The daughters of this city’s residents are coming out to draw water. If I say to a girl, ‘Please tilt down your pitcher and let me drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I will also give your camels to drink,’ (she will be fit to) be chosen by You for Your servant, for Isaac. I will know that through her You have acted kindly with my master.

The Torah continues:

He had not finished speaking, and—behold! Rebecca… came out, and her pitcher was on her shoulder… She went down to the well, filled her pitcher and came back up. The servant ran toward her, and said, “Please let me sip a little water from your pitcher.” She said, “Drink, sir.”

She quickly took down her pitcher into her hand, and gave him to drink. When she finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will also draw (water) for your camels, until they have finished drinking.” She quickly emptied her pitcher into the trough, and ran to the well again to draw water. She drew (water) for all his camels.

What is noteworthy about this story is the discrepancy between Eliezer’s words and Rebecca’s actions. Rebecca’s actions did not match Eliezer’s test. Eliezer said, “If… she says, ‘Drink, and I will also give your camels to drink,’ whereas she just gave him water to drink without mentioning his camels. Only after he finished drinking did she offer to draw water for the camels.

Moreover, when Eliezer recounts his experience with Rebecca to her family he varies the sequence. He simply states: “… she quickly lowered her pitcher from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will give your camels to drink too.’”

Why did he not tell them the truth, that she did not offer water for the camels until after Eliezer finished drinking?

CHANGING THE
SEQUENCE OF EVENTS

Another question raised by many of the commentators concerns Eliezer’s reaction to Rebecca’s behavior. Immediately after she gives water for the camels he adorns her with jewelry before he even asks her who she is. Why was he so certain that she was the one destined for Isaac before making sure she was from Abraham’s family, one of the conditions Abraham stipulated to Eliezer?

Moreover, when he recounts this episode to Rebecca’s family he reverses the order of events to forestall their obvious question, why he would give her jewelry before knowing who she was.

Rashi addresses this question and states that Eliezer was confident that he would be successful due to Abraham’s merit. However, the fact that he felt he had to test Rebecca’s kindness indicates that he didn’t just rely on Abraham’s merit, for if that were the case he could randomly select the first girl that he met.

Commentators explain that the test was to determine if Rebecca possessed the trait of kindness. It was a test she passed with flying colors. However, this explanation falls short in light of the discrepancy between what Eliezer proposed as his test and how she acted.

BEYOND EXPECTATIONS AND CONVENTIONS

In truth, we might suggest, it was not just the kindness that she exhibited but it was, in fact, the way she went beyond Eliezer’s expectations of her kindness and exhibited another one of the unique traits of Abraham we encountered in last week’s parsha. This added dimension of her behavior proved to Eliezer, without a doubt, that she must be of Abraham’s family stock. A display of mere kindness by her would still have required that Eliezer ascertain her identity before rewarding her with jewelry.

What was the “extra” ingredient in Abraham’s kindness that she seemed to emulate?

While Abraham was recovering from his circumcision he sat outside his tent to look for travelers whom he could invite into his tent and provide them with their needs. When they finally came, Abraham offered them just bread. In the end, he actually provided them with a gourmet meal! The Talmud (Bava Metzia 87a) comments on this and states:

From this we can derive that righteous people say little and do much more.

This, the Talmud states, is in stark contrast to the wicked who say a lot and do not even do a little. The Talmud derives this thought from the section of this week’s parsha which recounts Abraham’s purchase of the Cave of Machpelah for Sarah’s burial. Ephron, the Hittite leader, was initially so gracious and declined payment from Abraham. In the end, he changed his tune and demanded an exorbitant amount for the burial plot.

Here too, Rebecca was merely asked to offer a bit of water for Eliezer and for his camels. Rebecca goes way beyond that request to “sip” some water and patiently waits for Eliezer to drink his fill. She then returns and draws water for all his camels and waits for them to finish drinking.

Eliezer realized that she was not just an exceptionally kind person but that she was a perfect match for Abraham’s family because she possessed the same extraordinary trait as Abraham. It was not just the kindness that made her a perfect match for Abraham’s family; it was her modest offer [“say little”] that was followed by incredible effort, dedication and patience.

This explains why Eliezer did not choose to report this to Rebecca’s family; they were on a completely different wavelength. They could never have comprehended that extraordinary trait. Eliezer had to restrict his description of Rebecca to more conventional terms of kindness.

WHY SAY LITTLE AND DO MUCH MORE?

At this point one might ask what is so remarkable about saying little and doing much more? Why is this considered one of the distinguishing factors between the righteous and the wicked, which resulted in her marriage to Isaac and their genesis of the Jewish people?

When a person makes grandiose offers, the person usually feels positive about his or her good intentions. Every person wants to feel that he or she is a good person. In truth, kindness is not restricted to holy people. We all possess in the reservoir of our souls the Divine trait of chesed-kindness. This innate feeling is what makes a person, even one far removed from a virtuous life, feel the need to do something for others. However, when our egocentric nature is dominant it looks for ways to express kindness sufficient enough to assuage any feeling of guilt, but not enough to make a real difference.

Thus the Ephrons of the world are able to pat themselves on the back and feel that they are magnanimous just by making a grandiose offer. Once they feel good about themselves for making that offer they will have succeeded in silencing the quiet voice of the soul which wants to be heard and truly make a difference. They can then go back to their selfish default position.

Abraham’s kindness was totally of a selfless nature. The Abrahams of the world are never content with making offers of assistance and kindness; they are focused totally on action; on translating their words into action.

Rebecca did not perform a perfunctory act of kindness. Neither did she limit herself to Eliezer’s precise request. Rather, without fanfare or announcing her intentions, she went all the way. She thus demonstrated that she was a perfect match for Abraham’s family.

FINISHING THE JOB

There is yet another way of understanding this trait of saying little and doing much more. The first step in any venture is obviously the discussion of one’s plan.  Saying little and doing much more ensures that one is not content with just starting a project and leaving it for others to complete.

As we stand on the cusp of the Final Redemption, we must remember that what is most important now is finishing the task and bringing G-d’s Master Plan to its conclusion.

The Talmud states that “A mitzvah is credited to the one who completes it.” Judah, Joseph’s brother, was criticized by the Talmudic Sages for saving Joseph from death but not completing the act of saving him by returning him to his father.

Rebecca arguably gives us the most dramatic example of someone who could have very easily started to perform the act of kindness, by giving Eliezer some water, and then left. Instead, she worked tirelessly and waited until every last camel had drunk its fill. This is more than just ideal kindness; it was a commitment to see a process reach its desired conclusion.

The Rebbe has stated repeatedly that we are the last generation of exile and we will be the first generation of Redemption. However, the lesson we learn from our Matriarch Rebecca is that we cannot feel content in knowing that we will, sometime in the future, be the first generation of Redemption. We cannot rest until we perform the ultimate act of kindness of bringing true peace to the entire world “Rebecca style.” This means that we must add to our efforts to do one more Mitzvah until we bring about the Final Redemption!

 

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