Can you remember the first story from the Torah that you ever learned?
When I was assigned this portion and I began to study it, it occurred to me that this story might have been one of the first ones I ever learned.
In case you can’t remember, Abraham was looking for a wife for his son Isaac. He sent his servant Eliezer to his ancestral homeland to find someone. Eliezer went to a well and set up a test – he was looking for someone who would not only offer him water but also provide water for his ten thirsty camels.
Sure enough. the very first person who came along was Rebecca and she did just that. At that moment, Eliezer knew he had found who he was looking for.
There are two elements to this story that have become very important to me. No, it has nothing to do with camels!
But it has a lot to do with water, and with the way that Rebecca went above and beyond in order to provide water to those without it.
Nearly two years, ago, this portion and my bar mitzvah were the last thing on my mind as my family vacationed in Tanzania. But in some ways, it was as if they were all connected.
We went on safari and saw amazing animals and fantastic views, but one sight touched close to home more than any other, and that was the way people in Tanzania use water.
Think of the ways you use water every day. You shower, you flush the toilet, and you nonchalantly turn on the faucet in nearly every room in your house. You leave the faucet on when you brush your teeth or doing the dishes. Of course that never happens with me. I never do the dishes -they’re not really my thing!
Now, imagine waking up at the crack of dawn, walking more than ten miles, filling up your jug with water that we wouldn't touch, let alone drink, then starting back home. Sounds horrible. But for many people across Africa, this is a far-too-real fact of everyday life.
After seeing all this and then hearing about my Torah portion, I knew immediately what my mitzvah project would be. I've chosen one of the world's premier water charities, known as “Charity: Water,” to help me bring clean water to those in need, just like Rebecca. With the money that I am raising on my website, I’ll be helping to provide fresh, clean water, and lots of it, to extremely thirsty people, the Bakaya of Central African Republic.
Water is a problem not just in Africa, but all around the world. As of this month, 136,314,000 people around the world are living under the most severe drought conditions. It is also a concern here in parts of America, like the southwest and Gulf Coast area, where drought conditions exist.
In the stories of Abraham and Isaac, there are constant references to wells. Often there are disputes over who owns them. Water was very precious even back then. A prayer for rain in Israel has been part of our daily prayers for two thousand years. And it is also precious in the Middle East today. In Israel, scientists are building desalination plants to turn sea water into drinking water, and a joint Israeli-Palestinian team is working together to develop clean water solutions. It’s interesting to see how people who have fought so much might be able to come together over water.
So you can see how important water is – and also how important it can be to go above and beyond to help those less fortunate to have access to it. I hope you remember that the next time someone comes up to you with ten thirsty camels.
Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Monday, November 1, 2010
TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Charlie Sosnick on Hayye Sarah
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