When Eliezer, the Patriarch Abraham’s servant, was sent to Aram Naharayim to find a suitable match for Isaac, Eliezer’s test for the suitable girl (who turned out to be the Matriarch Rebecca) was rather unusual.
“Behold, I stand by the fountain of water; and the daughters of the men of the city come out to draw water. So let it come to pass, that the maiden to whom I shall say: Let down your pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink; and she shall say: ‘Drink, and I will give your camels drink also.’ Let her be the one that You have appointed for Your servant, for Isaac, and thereby shall I know that You have shown kindness unto my master.”
If Eliezer would have said, “the first maiden that would ask ‘where are you from?’ will be the girl that G-d had intended for Isaac,” or some other similar statement, it would have been an arbitrary and capricious way of determining who should marry Isaac.
Now, however, that Eliezer was making his determination as to who should be Isaac’s match on the basis of an act of kindness, it was not arbitrary at all. After all, kindness is a trait that was the hallmark of Abraham’s family.
But a question can still be asked. Wouldn’t it have sufficed if the girl would have kindly acceded to his request for some water? Why did he have to add on the provision that she would also offer to provide water for his camels? Isn’t the act of helping a stranger proof enough of her kindness?
Furthermore, if Eliezer really wanted to see the true extent of her kindness, he should have said, “which ever maiden will offer to give me something to drink.” Isn’t unsolicited kindness a more meaningful form of kindness?
To answer this question we must discern between two opposite motivations of kindness. On the surface they may appear identical, but when we probe beneath the surface, we will realize that they are truly two distinct forms of kindness.
The first and lower form of kindness and compassion is motivated by seeing the needs of others. When we see another person’s suffering we cannot bear it and we respond by doing something to help remove the other’s pain. This form of compassion, however worthy it may be, is not real compassion. If one were never to have seen the other’s suffering and degradation, it would never have occurred to him to look and find these people who are in need and help them. Only when their pain comes to our attention, do we then react. This form of reactive kindness is actually not an expression of compassion for others, but really a way of allaying one’s own pain and discomfort.
Pro-active compassion is where one cannot bear to keep the resources they possess for themselves. To use a Talmudic metaphor: “A cow wants to nurse its offspring more than the offspring wants to be nursed.” A truly kind and compassionate person’s need to give, prompts him to become a pro-active giver who seeks out others who are in need. It is not his own pain that he is trying to assuage, but he is in pain when he cannot give of himself to others
This was the hallmark of Abraham. When he was recovering from circumcision, he was sitting outside his tent hoping to be able to invite some hapless wayfarer into his tent. His pain at not being able to help another human being was greater than the physical pain that followed his surgery.
If “the girl” that was to become the wife of Isaac, Abraham’s son, was to prove that she was a pro-active giver, it would not have sufficed for her to have volunteered giving Eliezer something to drink. Her generosity might have been aroused by her seeing the famished condition of Eliezer and not by a pure desire to help others.
Eliezer therefore stipulated that the girl who would offer to go beyond compassion for the weary traveler, but would also want to do even more acts of kindness, she is the one who is endowed with the Abraham trait of pure and unadulterated kindness.
G-d also displays two modes of kindness. Creation of the world, we are told, is a product of G-d’s kindness. But that kindness existed even before there was a need for it; it was pro-active. On the other hand, the kindness that we are in need of now that we are in exile is motivated by the pain that G-d “experiences” when He sees His children suffering.
When Moshiach will usher in a new age of Divine revelation and there will be no more poverty and suffering, G-d’s benevolence will once more not merely be of the reactive mode, but as in the beginning of creation, it will be pro-active — pure and unadulterated kindness. G-d will give not because we need, but because He desires to give.
Our pure and pro-active acts of goodness kindness are the catalysts that will usher in the Messianic Age of pure and unrestricted G-dly goodness and kindness.