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Parashat Hayeh Sara: No Good Deed Goes Unrewarded

Parashat Hayeh-Sara tells the famous story of Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, whom Avraham sent to Aram Naharayim to find a wife for Yishak. Eliezer prayed to G-d and asked to arrange that the chosen girl would be the one who, after he asks her for some water, offers water also for his camels. Of course, this turned out to be Ribka.

After Eliezer realized that Ribka was the girl chosen by G-d, and he gave her jewelry, her brother, Laban, "ran to the man outside, to the well" (24:29). The Torah does not tell us why Laban ran outside to the well. Some commentaries explain that Laban ran to Eliezer because he was greedy, and he realized that Eliezer had brought riches from Abraham’s home. However, as the Or Ha’haim (Rav Haim Ben-Attar, 1696-1743) notes, it is only in the next verse that the Torah tells that Laban saw the expensive jewelry that Eliezer gave her. It thus seems that he ran to the well for some other reason.

The Or Ha’haim also notes another difficulty. The Torah introduces this verse by stating that Ribka had a brother, "U’shmo Laban" – "and his name was Laban." The Or Ha’haim cites a passage from the Midrash as teaching that this sequence – where the word "Shem" ("name") precedes the person’s name – is used only for introducing righteous people. For example, the verse in Megilat Rut (2:1) introduces Boaz, a Sadik, with the expression, "U’shmo Boaz," whereas the verse in the Book of Shemuel I (25:25) says about the wicked man Nabal, "Ki Nabal Shemo" – "for his name is Nabal," reversing the sequence, because he was sinful. As Laban was certainly a wicked person, we would have naturally expected the Torah to say, "Laban Shemo," as opposed to "U’shmo Laban."

The Or Ha’haim explains that Laban ran to the well because he noticed a stranger approach his sister and begin speaking to her. This naturally aroused Laban’s suspicion, and so he ran to protect his sister, as any good brother would. Laban here acted virtuously, for the sake of his sister, and so the Torah here introduces him as a righteous man, saying, "U’shmo Laban," even though immediately thereafter Laban emerges as a greedy, corrupt individual.

The Or Ha’haim applies to this context the rule taught to us by our Sages, "En Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu Mekape’ah Sachar Kol Birya" – "The Almighty does not deprive any creature of its reward." Even a person as evil as Laban is still recognized for the good he performs. Thus, when he ran to protect his sister from a person whom he suspected of improper conduct, the Torah speaks of him as a righteous man. Each and every good deed we do is immensely valuable and will earn us great reward, and we should therefore constantly strive to perform Misvot and seize every Misva opportunity that presents itself.

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