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B'resheet/Genesis 24:11 And he made the camels kneel, outside the city, at the well of water, at the time of evening, at the time when the women who draw [water] come out.
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Avraham's servant has travelled some two hundred miles from the Land of Israel following a north-east arc to return to Aram Naharaim ("Aram of the Two Rivers", because it is situated between the Tigris and the Euphrates), called simply 'Mesopotamia' by many translations. Since he has come to "the city of Nahor" (v. 10), this would imply it is the city called Haran in chapter 12, the city Avraham left in response toHaShem's call when he went to the land of Canaan. It is also known as Paddan Aram in chapter 25: "Yitz'khak was forty years old when he married Rivkah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-Aram, sister of Laban the Aramean" (25:20, NRSV). The name 'Haran' is specifically used when Rachel tells Ya'akov, "Now therefore, my son, obey my voice, and arise, flee to Haran, to my brother Laban!" (27:43, NASB). We cannot be certain whether the servant was part of Avraham's household when he originally left. Sarna suggests that "it was natural for a newly arrived stranger to head for the public wells. He would replenish his water supplies and at the same time cull much valuable information about the town and make useful contacts, for the well served as a meeting place for the townsfolk and shepherds." On the other hand, the narrative that follows suggests both that the servant is familiar with the layout and customs of the city and that he is not totally unknown to the family of Bethuel and Laban.
The servant makes the camels kneel - the verb is a Hi'phil 3ms prefix form with a vav-conversive from the root , usually "to bless" but also "to bend the knee, kneel" - outside the city, rather than going in to a particular address or family with which he might have been familiar. The camels kneel facing towards the well at the time when the women-folk of the city come out to draw water. The servant knows that they won't come out during the heat of the day, or when travellers might be passing, but at evening when the sun starts to set. Although the word 'women' is not explicitly present in the Hebrew text, the word is a Qal participle, feminine plural from the root , to draw water; those drawing the water are feminine and probably mainly young. Plaut points out that the same expression is also found in Ugaritic documents: "this shows that this is typical work for the womenfolk".Hirsch, in slightly more mystical vein than usual, tells us that the word for well - from the root , to make clear - here also means a place where light comes out of darkness. The servant needs to find the right girl, but is in the dark as to which one it might be; the well, by Hirsch's logic, provides a place there the light will shine for him to see which girl he is to select.
Robert Alter uses well-stories as a type-scene for a betrothal sequence1. He explains that an oral tradition audience would hear the opening words, recognise the story cues and would know what was coming next. The interest was not in the basic plot, which was always the same, but in the way that each particular instance differed from the standard or in the way the different steps were ordered or achieved. Three betrothal well-stories are present within the Torah: Yitzkhak and Rivka, where the well-scene itself is played by a proxy, the servant; Ya'akov and Rachel (B'resheet 29:2 ff.); Moshe and Tzipporah (Shemot 2:15 ff.). Through an ordinary set of circumstances - a man, who is not in his native land or district, arrives at a well; there he meets a young girl; someone draws or arranges to draw water in spite of some practical difficulty; the man reveals something about his identity; the girl rushes back home to tell the news - the marvellous happens. Alter proposes that through a standard sequence of every day events, an ancient author or story-teller would draw the audience into the story, surprise them with a twist or out-of-sequence step and then resolve the scene to the expected - or perhaps, unexpected - conclusion. Endings might be good, reaching the betrothal - as the three above - or bad, as in 1 Samuel 9:11-12 where the betrothal is missed as a possible foreshadow that Saul will not succeed as a king either.
In the following verse, the servant prays and asks HaShem to show him which girl is to be chosen as a wife for Yitzkhak. Richard Elliott Friedman comments that the servant's request is for G-d to "make something happen", he writes: "the Hebrew text includes the particle , conveying that this is a polite request. Even as a request, though, it is remarkable: the servant himself asks for a miraculous sign from G-d and he himself names what that sign should be. No human, including Avraham himself, has yet gone this far in the biblical text!" Yet what is really happening here? The servant follows established tradition, goes to the right place, asks the right question and - right in the middle of the ordinary - a miracle happens. Rivka, from Avraham's own family, comes out and shows that sign of generosity that answers the servant's prayer. Among all the other women fetching water from the well for their households, it is Rivka - the daughter of Bethuel and sister of Laban - that the servant approaches with his request. In the midst of the routine, the usual, G-d steps in and the same old "same old" is transformed into a living relationship.
One day, Yeshua and the disciples were walking near Mount Tabor in the Jezreel valley south-west of the Galil. As they approached a town, a funeral procession made its way out towards the cemetery. Nothing unusual in that; death happened every day and since Jewish law required burial within twenty-four hours of decease, the whole town would join in to mourn, wail and lament, and escort the dead person to their grave. As the procession passed Yeshua - who was probably in conversation, teaching the disciples - He was prompted by the Ruach and, moved by compassion, stepped miraculously into a widow's life. "He came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And He said, 'Young man, I say to you, arise.' And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Yeshua gave him to his mother" (Luke 7:14-15, ESV). There, right in the middle of a hot, dry day, while the town was carrying out the all too frequent and mundane business of burying the dead, Yeshua broke into the ordinary and revealed the kingdom of G-d. A dead son was raised so that he could continue to provide for his widowed mother, a widow's despair was changed to joy in a moment, the power of G-d was manifest, and G-d was glorified.
How do we find G-d in our ordinary lives? Do we have any right to expect Him to show up and transform our work-a-day lives and happenings into living encounters with Him? Absolutely! Generations of believers have proved this down through the centuries, again and again. When we quietly follow our instructions, trust G-d and believe that He will respond to our prayers, and carry on with the things that we have to do - earning a living, caring for children or elderly relatives, attending meetings - G-d is there and will break through into these situations. We have to be open to hearing the voice of the Spirit, that inner whisper that tells us that something is about to happen and what our part in it is to be. It is not that we expect G-d to do something in particular, but that we expect G-d to do something; something unexpected, yet entirely in character with His compassion and desire to touch peoples' lives. We have seen what He has done in the past - "Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them" (Isaiah 42:9, ESV) - and in our day we must expect G-d to continue to do what He always has done: "It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear" (65:24, NASB).
So, what are you going to do today? What is G-d going to do today?
1. - Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, Basic Books 1981, 0-465-00427-X, pages 51-62. Also consider Yeshua meeting the Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar in John 4:5-30.
Further Study: Isaiah 48:11; Luke 7:19-23
In a modern and skeptical world, people have forgotten G-d and don't expect
anything out of the ordinary to happen. Today, be bold; ask G-d for a
miracle and then just watch to see what happens.
© Jonathan Allen, 2012
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© Jonathan Allen, 2012
Your turn - what do you think of the ideas in this drash ?Like most print and online magazines, we reserve the right to edit or publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.