In reflecting on this parasha, and in particular the verses I have chanted tonight, I want to leave you with the image of Rebecca, who embodies some of our most profound Jewish values, and I want to leave you thinking about – believe it or not -- Niagara Falls.
The images in tonight’s parasha are wonderfully vivid. Rebecca approaches the well, and draws up water, again and again, refreshing the foolish, nameless servant and his camels. But she doesn’t just walk – she runs, she hurries, she even interrupts. She enters our story in the midst of the servant’s plaintive bargaining with God – before he had finished speaking. She quickly lowers her jug for the servant to drink. She exceeds his request to slake his own thirst and she hurries and runs to the well to draw water for his camels. (As so often in Torah, the great soul is one who cares for the welfare of God’s other creatures, the animals.)
Back and forth, we imagine her strong and lovely and intent on her work, quick and purposeful. The clean, lifesaving water pours rhythmically from her jug, over and over, satisfying man and beast.
Water is an image that dominates Torah from the very first ringing phrases of B’reishit through the end of Deuteronomy when Moses gazes across the Jordan. God pulled solid earth and rich seas apart from the rushing, formless void. God sent the Flood harshly to cleanse a corrupted world. Hagar is sent out with a meager skin of water to sustain herself and her son. The infant Moses floats to his foster mother, Pharoah’s daughter, while his sister and mother lurk, agonized, on the riverbank. The great Reed Sea parts for Moses’ ragtag band of slaves, closes its torrents over the heads of the Egyptian pursuers. At Meribah, Moses loses control and in his anger defies God, as he strikes the rock which will yield precious water for the desert wanderers. Water is certainly the most important natural resource in the desert and in Canaan. Water makes up seventy percent of our earth, seventy percent of our bodies. Even today, more traditional congregations continue to include in the longer version of the Sh’ma and its blessings the section of Deuteronomy in which God promises that faithful worship and righteous behavior will be rewarded with rain in its season.
And so Rebecca teaches us so much. She teaches us to bring water to those who need it, and to bring it in a great hurry. To do right, and to do it now. To know what is needed, to listen and even to exceed what is asked, and to do it quickly. To bring water to those who cannot get it for themselves. To pour out the water again and again, to slake thirst, to refresh the withered and sere, to run to the task.
Rebecca is a one-woman Niagara Falls. She is water, sustenance, endless tzedakah and generosity, rushing and hurrying and powerful in fulfilling God’s plan in a simple, brief encounter with a bumbling servant and his tired camels. She is chesed, that special sort of loving-kindness imbued with spiritual luster, that is so hard to translate from Hebrew to English.
Rebecca has probably run to the well for dozens of thirsty strangers before this very special one arrived on this very special day. Niagara Falls goes about its business day and night, in rainy season and dry season. Our chesed must flow constantly as well, day and night, whether acknowledged or private, whether in response to loud demands or silently proferred.
Hillel reminds us, “If not now, when?” and the sages comment that he did not say, “If not today, when?” – he said now. This moment. There may not be another moment in this day, or tomorrow, or the day after. We must hurry to tzedakah, to righteousness, to generosity, to chesed. We too must be Niagara Falls.