The biblical story is clear enough. We read in the Torah portion of Chayei Sarah, how Eliezer, servant of Avraham, arrives at the well in Haran, in search for a bride for Yitzchak. He prays to G-d for success in his mission, asking that this be a sign: The girl who offers water to me and my camels will be a demonstration of kindness worthy of bride for Yitzchak. And so, it is, he barely finishes his prayer when Rivka shows up and offers water to Eliezer and also for his camels…

My Zeide Moshe Rubin has a twist on this story. It certainly doesn’t fit the literal meaning, no doubt Eliezer and his camels were thirsty from their travels. But my Zeide’s twist has profound psychological insight, with great resonance in relationships. I heard this from him as a teen, but understood it more fully in marriage.

My Zeide asks: Why was Rivka’s offering of (public well) water so significant and such an indicator of character? (The simple meaning is understood, its a gesture not to be taken for granted, but here’s his take…)

It says somewhere in the Talmud that before age 40 people need to eat more than drink. But if flips midlife, after 40 people need to drink more than eat. So Rivka was under 40 and Eliezer was over 40. According to my Zeide’s twist, what really impressed Eliezer about Rivka was not just her thoughtful gesture and generous spirit – but her empathy. Although she was under 40, she was able to see that drink is what he needed most. She reached out with what he needed, not with what she needed. She saw it from his side, not hers. 

So, yes, while this doesn’t fit perfectly into the scenario of the biblical story – it fits so deeply and richly into human nature. It’s a critical life message and life skill that many would do well to learn and grow into. Empathy is one of the most important skills in a healthy relationship.