Setting a Higher Standard

October 29, 2021

The Torah is full of moments where our heroes and heroines are “tested” to demonstrate their true character. In this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, it is our matriarch Rebecca’s turn to be evaluated, and not only does she pass, rather, she also exceeds all expectations!

Rebecca’s test is an assessment of her kindness and compassion. Eliezer is sent to identify a potential wife for his master’s (Abraham’s) son, Isaac. The simple test he devises is a request to drink some water and see if a maiden will not only offer him but also his camels a drink (Genesis 24:14). After offering Eliezer a drink, Rebecca’s generosity, however, does not stop with a simple offer to quench the animals’ thirst. Rebecca adds a self-imposed requirement to draw water from the well, “until [all the camels] have finished drinking.” (24:19)

The lesson Rebecca teaches us is that sometimes life’s expectations are simply not good enough. Sometimes you can “pass the test” but not achieve the goodness necessary to meet another’s real need. Yes, Rebecca would have passed Eliezer’s test, but would that have sustained the camels’ thirst following their journey through the desert? Sometimes we need to go beyond the bar and set a higher standard.

This week was a difficult week for our Jewish San Antonio community. It was a different kind of difficult than COVID, different than the February freeze, different than our ongoing challenge to battle local anti-Zionist and anti-Israel groups who seek to undermine Israel. This week was difficult due to an out-of-state group’s arrival to San Antonio to spew their hateful rhetoric and incite emotional turmoil with their antisemitic propaganda and raucous protesting. This week’s “difficult” was our test as the Jewish community of San Antonio.

Yes, we passed the test. Yes, we got through this group’s distribution of hateful materials. Yes, there were no physical incidents of violence nor engagement. But is that really enough? Would Rebecca have stopped there?

How many reading this column even know that San Antonio has a Holocaust memorial museum? How many have made sure to bring their children, or grandchildren to visit; to read the messages; to listen to the personal accounts; to share your own family’s story? How about our neighbors, our friends, our coworkers? Are your child’s classmates part of the 18,000+ students who visit the museum every year?

It is at times like these, when groups display banners that the Holocaust is “fake news,” or dress in Nazi attire and salute a genocidal maniac, when we need to ask ourselves if it is enough to simply live through the experience. What about when a school district’s executive director for curriculum and instruction advises the district’s teachers to make sure to teach the “opposing view” of the Holocaust because of a poorly written state bill that requires teachers to teach “both sides” of “controversial topics”? Should we respond?

The Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio is funded 100% through donations. The museum does not charge for admission and is sustained through the generosity of sponsorships from local businesses as well as through its primary source, the San Antonio Jewish community Annual Campaign. In fact, our Holocaust Museum subsidizes the bus costs for school visits. We pay schools to bring their students!

Each of us will be tested independently throughout our lives. Each of us will have to decide if we want to meet the minimum standards or exceed them like our matriarch, Rebecca. However, every once in a while, like this past week, we will be tested as a community. How we will respond will make all the difference. Given our 100+ years of history in San Antonio so far, I have great confidence that we will continue to exceed these expectations because we are…


Shabbat shalom,