Parashat Haye Sarah- Contemplating the Final Redemption
Parashat Hayeh-Sara tells the famous story of the selection of Ribka as a wife for Yishak. One of the more perplexing aspects of this story is the account of Ribka and Yishak’s first encounter. We read that Yishak went "Lasu’ah Ba’sadeh" – literally, "to converse in the field" – late in the afternoon, before dark, when he looked up and saw camels making their way towards him (24:63). When Ribka saw Yishak, the Torah relates, she "fell off the camel" (24:64). Rashi explains that Yishak went to the field to pray, and when Ribka saw him, his uniquely distinguished appearance made a deep impression on her, and she lowered herself from the camel toward the ground.
Other commentators, however, offer different explanations of this story.
The work Birkat Abraham explains based on the Sages’ comment that the word "Sadeh" ("field") in this verse alludes to the Bet Ha’mikdash. When the Torah speaks of Yishak going to "converse" in the "Sadeh," the Birkat Abraham writes, it means that he went to contemplate the rebuilding of the third and final Bet Ha’mikdash. He contemplated what would happen "Lifnot Areb" – "before dark," in the final generation of exile, at the very end of Jewish history. He thought about and reflected upon the question of how his descendants, the Jewish Nation, would be worthy of redemption and the rebuilding of the Mikdash. After so many centuries in exile, living among gentile nations and suffering persecution, they would be on a very low spiritual level. How, then, would the "Sadeh" – the empty "field," the ruins of the Bet Ha’mikdash – be rebuilt?
Yishak found his answer in the "Gemalim" – the camels. The word "Gamal" ("camel") has the same letters as the name of the letter "Gimal." The Gemara in Masechet Shabbat explains the significance of all the different letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and it teaches that the letter "Gimal" represents "Gemilut Hasadim" – performing kindness. The "Gimal" is positioned in the alphabet right before the letter "Dalet," which represents "Dal" – the pauper. The "Gimal" has a "leg" that is extended toward the next letter, symbolizing charitable giving to the poor. Hence, when the Torah says that Yishak raised his eyes and saw "Gemalim," it means that he saw the "Gimal" – loving-kindness and selfless giving. This was the answer to his vexing question about the end of the Jewish exile.
Citing the Hiddusheh Ha’Rim (Rav Yishak Meir Alter of Ger 1799-1866), the Birkat Abraham explains that the final redemption will arrive specifically in the merit of Gemilut Hasadim. Jewish life is built upon the three "pillars" of Torah study, Aboda (devoted service to Hashem, such as through prayer), and acts of kindness. These are embodied by the three patriarchs: Abraham was the pillar of kindness, Yishak was the pillar of Aboda, and Yaakob was the pillar of Torah study. With time, the Jewish Nation’s standards of study and service have declined. In our generation, though we are blessed with higher numbers of full-time students of Torah than ever before, we are incapable of producing Torah scholars of the caliber of previous generations’ sages, such as the Hafetz Haim and the Ben Ish Hai. We will never be able to produce scholars on the level of the Tanna’im and Amora’im. Likewise, we have fallen very far from the previous generations’ standards of prayer. Our synagogues are, Baruch Hashem, large, beautiful, and filled to capacity, but the quality of our prayers will never reach that of our ancestors in Aleppo, for example. However, with regard to the third pillar, we can proudly claim to have not only matched, but exceeded, the standards of our predecessors. Technology has enabled individuals and organizations to lend assistance to people in need on a scale of an entirely different magnitude than in the past. While in the past people were able to help only their close neighbors, today, people generously donate charity and run organizations that help literally thousands of people each and every day. And it is in this merit that our redemption will come. As the prophet Yeshayahu (1:27) proclaimed, "Zion shall be redeemed through justice; and those who return to it, through charity."
This is what Yishak saw. As he contemplated the end of times, and wondered how his descendants will be worthy of the rebuilding of the Bet Ha’mikdash given the process of spiritual decline, he saw the "Gemalim" – the outstanding acts of kindness that will be performed in our times.
When Ribka realized what was happening, the Birkat Abraham writes, she fell off her camel in excitement. She saw that the time will come when the Jewish Nation will excel in the area of Hesed far beyond any previous generation, and this is what will make them deserving of the end of exile and the rebuilding of the Bet Ha’mikdash, may it happen speedily and in our times, Amen.