One of the many great privileges afforded to me as rabbi is teaching our Confirmation students. Each Sunday morning, we spend an hour reflecting on how Judaism informs our responses to the experiences of our lives. This past Sunday, we focused on how we can successfully resolve conflicts. One of the texts brought forward was from Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself. I am Adonai.”
Most often we focus on the first part of the verse and the challenge of loving our neighbor and even determining who is our neighbor. Instead, we looked at the second part of the verse; “I am Adonai.” We talked about the significance of these words as a reminder that we are all created in the image of God. We are all humans. We are all deserving of being loved.
Opening ourselves to this is quite scary. We must take a risk and become vulnerable. When we do this empathy comes forward with its sister middah, character trait, of Hesed, kindness/compassion. We have an incredible and powerful example of this in our Torah portion Chayei Sarah. After Sarah’s death, Abraham tasks his servant with the mission to find a wife for his son, Isaac.
The servant, later identified as Eliezer, (God is my help), prays to God that he be given a sign. Eliezer asks that the woman whom he should choose for Isaac be the one who offers him water and also offers water for the 10 camels he has with him. What is most striking to me is that Eliezer is not seeking physical beauty in this future bride. He is seeking an inner beauty that radiates Hesed, kindness and compassion. Someone who is willing to take a risk and become vulnerable.
This is a radical shift in the biblical paradigm. Rebecca comes forward and offers Eliezer water and offers to draw water for all of the camels he has with him. She does this without hesitation. This is her very nature that allows her to connect deeply with others. This is testified by the fact that her father, upon meeting Eliezer and hearing the story, gives Rebecca the choice of whether or not to marry Isaac.
Rebecca is a woman who has agency. She is empowered by her father and the people around her. She is not a possession. She is a human, a full person in her own right created in God’s image. Rebecca is a person who will risk becoming vulnerable to create a deeper connection. When she finally meets Isaac they fall in love with each other, and Isaac is able to begin healing from the loss of his mother.
Rebecca models for us the power of vulnerability. Elie Wiesel once said: “David on his way to fight Goliath, was given the King’s armor. For a battle this unequal, with life and death stakes, armor made sense. But David removed the armor for it did not fit him. This image has stayed with me as a symbol of a key concept: that vulnerability is the greatest weapon if you are brave enough to use it.”
With great humility I would change out the word weapon with tool. Vulnerability is the tool we can use not only to help resolve conflict but also to deepen our connection through the Hesed, the kindness and compassion that can now flow through us.