Chayei Sarah for Tweens: Caring for Animals

Chayei Sarah, Genesis 23:1−25:18

"He [Abraham's servant] had scarcely finished speaking, when Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel, the son of Milcah the wife of Abraham's brother Nahor, came out with her jar on her shoulder. The maiden was very beautiful, a virgin who no man had known. She went down to the spring, filled her jar, and came up. The servant ran toward her and said, 'Please, let me sip a little water from your jar.' 'Drink, my lord,' she said, and she quickly lowered her jar upon her hand and let him drink. When she had let him drink his fill, she said, 'I will also draw for your camels, until they finish drinking.' Quickly emptying her jar into the trough, she ran back to the well to draw, and she drew for all his camels." (Genesis 24:15-20)

This parashah tells us critical information about the characters and people who will contribute to the continuation of the first Jewish family. After burying Sarah in the cave of Machpaleh, Abraham summons his servant to find a wife for his son Isaac. Abraham recognizes that while death has taken Sarah, the future of his family depends on Isaac and the woman who will be his wife. Eliezer the servant devises a character test to find a suitable wife.

Torah commentator Nechama Leibowitz points out,

"The Torah describes in detail Rebecca's attentions to all [of] Eliezer's camels, and there were ten of them. The text notes no less than twice that the spring was not actually by the trough but only in the vicinity and that to draw water she had to go down and come up."

What does this tell us about Rebecca? She went out of her way to quench the thirst of both human and animal. Ostensibly, her expression of compassion stretched on for hours. Her kindness was not impulsive; it was intentional. She acted without searching for a reward, and she fulfilled two important mitzvot, feeding the hungry and caring for animals. Rebecca proved to be a kind and generous woman, worthy of mothering the next generation. Character is often possible to discern at an early stage of a relationship, and families need compassionate role models.

Each of us is called to contribute to our families at different points in our lives and for different reasons. While we often put emphasis on the important work of tikkun olam, repairing the world, there are frequently opportunities to begin this work right in our own families and homes. Rebecca was not just right for the Isaac. Every family needs the spirit of Rebecca's kindness to thrive.

To Talk About

a. With younger children (3-5)

  1. Rebecca didn't know Eliezer before she met him at the well. She was nice to Eliezer even though she had just met him. How do you show kindness to new people you meet?
  2. Rebecca also showed kindness to Eliezer's camels. What are some ways you are nice to animals? If you have a pet in your house or your classroom, how do you show kindness to your pet?

b. With older children (6-8)

  1. Eliezer's job is to find a wife for Isaac. He decides that it is important to find a woman who is kind and generous. Why do you think Eliezer decides that being kind and generous are important qualities? What additional quality might you look for if you were trying to find a special person to bring into your family?
  2. Talk about a time when you acted generously or when someone was kind to you. How does it make you feel when someone is kind and generous to you? How do you feel when you act in a kind or generous way?

Further learning
Once Rebecca agrees to marry Isaac, she decides to leave with Eliezer right away, even though her family wants her to stay with them a few more days. As a family, discuss whether there are times when children should be able to make decisions without their parents' consent or situations when children going against parents' wishes is acceptable. Reference Genesis 24:50-61 for this part of the story.

Reference Materials

Chayei Sarah, Genesis 23:1–25:18
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 156–167; Revised Edition, pp. 153–167;
The Torah: A Women's Commentary, pp. 111–132

Originally published: