The world’s continued existence rests on three pillars: Torah study, worship of God, and acts of loving kindness. — Pirkei Avot (Foundational Principles of Jewish Ethics, c. 200 CE) 1:2
Each pillar honours the legacy of a Biblical hero. Moshe channeled the Torah. Aharon implemented formal rituals of worship. Avraham passed on a legacy of loving kindness. The Talmud names some of their female disciples, e.g. Beruriah the scholar; Martha the mother of high priests; Imma Shalom, always rushing to feed the hungry.
This week’s Torah establishes “loving kindness” as Avraham’s legacy. Avraham instructs Eliezer to travel to Avraham’s home town, seek out Avraham’s family, and bring home a young cousin for Avraham’s son Yitzchak to marry. But Avraham offers no information on the qualities he wishes for in a daughter-in-law. So, Eliezer decides.
“God,” he prays, “I will know you have acted with loving kindness towards Avraham if, upon my arrival, you send a young woman who offers water to me and to my camels.” Rivkah appears, pouring out loving kindness like water. Eliezer recognizes in her actions the divine quality he prayed for.
Recently I attended an interfaith forum on love. Speakers represented ten faith traditions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Indigenous Canadian, Bahai, Sikhism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Scientology. We spoke on all facets of love, ranging from eros to compassion, from family kinship to support of oppressed strangers.
A participant challenged us. “If love in all its forms is so important to all religious traditions, how come the world has so much war and violence?” Together, all ten of us offered a single answer: Wherever you find those catastrophes, you also find acts of compassion, resistance, relief, support, kindness and risk. These actions do not dominate the news, but their power saves the world.
For additional reflections on Parshat Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18), click here.