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Kindness to Strangers

Friday, 22 November, 2019 - 9:10 am

What is the most important character trait to look for in a spouse?

This week’s parsha Chayei Sarah offers an answer. It is the first matchmaking effort in the Torah. Avraham dispatches his trusted servant Eliezer to find a suitable wife for his son Yitzchak.

Eliezer travels to Avraham’s native land of Aram Naharaim to search among Avraham’s relatives.

But, how would he find the right girl?

Eliezer made a deal of sorts with G-d, that the first girl to offer water to him and his camels would be the correct one. Rivka immediately did just that – and the rest is history.

Eliezer also was looking for the right family. And the Torah states that Rivka was beautiful. She was also apparently mature and wise beyond her years. In the end, Eliezer found exactly what he was looking for. She matched the entire wish list.

But, the true litmus test was kindness. If she was kind – she was the right one for the holy Yitzchak.

Rivka demonstrated kindness to a total stranger. Eliezer was from a different land, with different beliefs.

The Torah teaches us numerous times to be kind to the stranger.

However, it’s sometimes easier to exhibit kindness to a total stranger than to someone I know. Lending a hand to a refugee might be easier than lending a hand to my own neighbor or coworker. I may be more eager to volunteer at the hospital than in my own family. 

In our polarizing times, we often are very familiar with people, yet we consider them strange. Their beliefs, politics, culture and priorities seem alien to us. They may live next door, but we occupy two different universes. They are familiar – but they are still strangers.

In reality, there are two types of strangers. People we really don’t know and people whose attitudes, lifestyles and beliefs we choose to estrange. They may not be technical strangers, but we have essentially alienated them. We choose not to socialize, collaborate or reach out to them.

Ignorance is bliss. That’s why it’s more difficult to treat these ‘strangers’ kindly than someone we truly don’t know. If I don’t know them, their attitudes don’t bother me.

*

As I spend Shabbat in New York together with my fellow Shluchim at the International Conference of Chabad Lubavitch Emissaries, I am reminded of this calling.

For over four decades my mentor the righteous Lubavitcher Rebbe worked to dismantle the notion of labels and division amongst Jews, and amongst all of humanity. By celebrating the oneness that unites all of us, and by refusing to consider anyone a stranger, the Rebbe transformed the landscape of Yiddishkeit.

Together with my friends and colleagues, I hope this weekend reinforces and re-inspires my resolve to make sure to reach out with unconditional loving-kindness to everyone.

This is the historic virtue of our ancestors, and the marching orders the Rebbe left us.

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