In this week’s sedrah, Chayei Sarah, the Torah repeats the ‘deal’ that Eliezer (Chazal tell us that it was Eliezer — the Torah does not identify him by name in this episode) made with Hashem, so to speak. The Torah first records this in Eliezer’s prayer, repeats it the second time as the events unfold, and a third and fourth repetition in the account that Eliezer told Besuel and his family of the prayer and the subsequent meeting with Rivkah. There are fascinating differences and distinct nuances in each of these four portrayal s, yet I believe that one that stands out more so than the others. In three of the four versions, when the maiden acquiesces to Eliezer’s request, her wording is “Drink and I will water your camels as well;” “You may drink and I will water your camels;” “Drink and I will even water your camels.” Yet in the Torah’s portrayal of the events as they occurred, Rivkah’s reply to Eliezer consists of nothing more than, “Drink, my lord,” and nothing more. It is only when Eliezer has finished drinking that she says, “I will now draw water for your camels as well.”
This seems a bit peculiar. By the actual incident, Rivkah says nothing about camels until she is about to give them water. Is this deliberate? What is it teaching us?
The Chovos Halevavos (Sha’ar Avodas Elokim 4) writes that one’s involvement with temporal, physical, Olam Hazeh affairs can be on one of three levels; subsistence-level, an inadequate level, and on an excessive level. Subsistence-level is the lifestyle that most people should maintain vis a vis things such as food, drink, clothing and shelter. The excessive-level is more-than-necessary, such as overeating, overdrinking, dressing lavishly, etc. The inadequate-level means that one does not consume even a subsistence-level amount of food, drink, clothing, etc. This is not a good midah, can be destructive, and thus, is wrong. The Chovos Halevavos then states: “However, speaking and eating less [than the norm] is always praiseworthy. It is better to speak less, because silence is always ultimately for the good, as the wise one (Shlomo Hamelech) said (Koheles 5:1), ‘Do not be rash with your lips and do not let your heart be quick to say anything before G-d… so let your words be few in number.”
The Chovos Halevavos has taught us here that we should go to the extreme in keeping quiet! People talk, and talk, and talk way too much, with no benefit or purpose. This kind of meaningless chatter is at best purposeless, and at worse, leads to the very many issurim associated with speech —lashon hara, rechilus, ono’as devarim, embarrassing someone, untruthfulness, provoking and perpetuating machlokes, and others.
The Chovos Halevavos further addressed this issue in Sha’ar Haperishus (where he teaches us how to curb our desires and practice appropriate abstinence), “Start by curbing your tongue and lips, avoiding unnecessary words… this should be done to the point where moving your heaviest limbs is easier for you than moving your tongue. For the tongue is quick to sin, and its sins are the most numerous of all, because the tongue moves effortlessly and speedily, does its work easily and is able to do good and evil without an intermediary. Therefore, you must especially try to control your tongue… Allow it to speak only what is essential to your Torah and worldly concerns. Minimize needless conversation as much as possible… speech is so much more difficult to control than other senses and organs.”
Rabbosai and Ladies: Please read this next part very carefully. “If you want proof of what I have said about the number of sins caused by the tongue, try to remember what has come out of your mouth in the course of a day of associating with others… Write it down, if you can (record it !—rczm) review it that night when you are free, and determine what part of your conversations was necessary and what was extraneous and unnecessary; what was harmful talk, shameful talk, what was lies, gossip, vows, and rumors. Your faults will then become obvious to you…”
Let us think about what the Chovos Halevavos is saying. At first glance, we think he may be exaggerating. What could possibly be wrong with ‘just’ talking? Yet —
if you would conduct his experiment— you may quickly find out how true is that we indeed fritter away valuable time, indeed, our very lives, with just plain talk, talk, talk.
Chazal recognized this. This is why they teach us (Bava Metzia 87a), “Tzaddikim say little, but do a lot, whereas the wicked talk a lot and do just about nothing.” Rav Yerucham Levovitz zt”l explains that the statement is not referring to keeping promises or the carrying out that which one has said; rather, the concept is that the Almighty finds ‘talk’ displeasing. If you have thought to do something, and have decided to carry it out, go do it! Don’t talk about it! Why talk? Talking should only be done for that which is necessary to perform the deed or, perhaps, to prepare the beneficiary. ‘Tzaddikim say little’ is a quality unto itself! The wicked are bound to talk a lot —for they do very little.
Reb Yerucham recounted that those who knew the Chafetz Chaim, knew that the concept of ‘talking’ was almost non-existent in his world. One would never hear him say, “I am going to do (something).” He would just go ahead and do it! If someone came to him for a letter of introduction, the person would barely just be finishing his request, and the Chafetz Chaim was already writing out the letter.
The overabundant talk of the wicked stems from their lack of determination to actually do! Thus, the unrighteous person satisfies himself and others with seemingly pious declarations. His talking reflects weakness, as he indulges in talking about what he will do. It is in that sense that Chazal teach us that ‘talk’ is displeasing to Hashem.
Ephron, at the beginning of this week’s sedrah, initially offers Avraham Avinu the field with the machpeilah cave as a gift. Before you can turn around, he is already asking for 400 silver shekels. Furthermore, when he actually takes the money, he is satisfied with nothing less than huge shekel, known as kantarei. Did he change his mind within mere minutes of his declaration of intent? No! His ‘talk’ was indeed just that —the empty talk of resha’im. Why talk? Do! Talking is empty, and in fact can possibly lead one into having made a neder obligation. The rasha is unconcerned about obligations, natural or neder-induced; thus, his talk is cheap.
Rivkah showed precisely this quality. Not only did she give the camels water, but she did not ‘talk’ about it either. She made no announcements, pronouncements or speeches. The exchange went like this: Eliezer: “Can I have some water to drink?”
Only after Eliezer drinks does she say, “Now I will give your camels as well.” No lengthy or even non-lengthy talk about what she plans on doing, just the act itself, thus expressing in action the chessed of which she was capable, instead of loquacious, eloquent oratory.