A close friend, and mentor of mine, is fond of this phrase. It references the 1989 film “Lean On Me” starring Morgan Freeman and is a significant theme running through this week’s Parasha Chayei Sarah. Understanding why it features so prominently can teach us something important about approaching life and thinking about death.
ex·pe·di·tious·ly /ˌekspəˈdiSHəslē/ Learn to pronounce
- with speed and efficiency.
It is expressed repeatedly in the story of Avraham’s sending his servant to find a wife for his son Isaac. The story reads of speed.
Avraham’s servant (who, while unnamed in this story, is generally believed to be Eliezer) arrives on his mission to find his master a wife. He begins by praying to G-d that he will grant him good fortune this day.
Elizar clearly states what kind of woman he is looking for, a woman who is not only benevolent but also magnanimous. He will know he has found this woman because he will only ask her for water for himself, but she will offer to provide it for him and his ten camels.
Camels are thirsty animals; they go for a long time without drinking, but when it is time to drink, they can guzzle up to 20 gallons (75.7 liters) at a time.
He barely gets the word the words out of his mouth, and G-d fulfills the request.
וַֽיְהִי־ה֗וּא טֶ֘רֶם֮ כִּלָּ֣ה לְדַבֵּר֒ וְהִנֵּ֧ה רִבְקָ֣ה יֹצֵ֗את אֲשֶׁ֤ר יֻלְּדָה֙ לִבְתוּאֵ֣ל בֶּן־מִלְכָּ֔ה אֵ֥שֶׁת נָח֖וֹר אֲחִ֣י אַבְרָהָ֑ם וְכַדָּ֖הּ עַל־שִׁכְמָֽהּ׃
He had scarcely finished speaking, when Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel, the son of Milcah the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor, came out with her jar on her shoulder.
Upon seeing a woman appear just as he finishes his request, he runs over to see if this is the woman who he prayed for.
וַיָּ֥רׇץ הָעֶ֖בֶד לִקְרָאתָ֑הּ וַיֹּ֕אמֶר הַגְמִיאִ֥ינִי נָ֛א מְעַט־מַ֖יִם מִכַּדֵּֽךְ׃
The servant ran toward her and said, “Please, let me sip a little water from your jar.”
She tells him to drink and quickly lowers her jar to allow him to do so.
וַתֹּ֖אמֶר שְׁתֵ֣ה אֲדֹנִ֑י וַתְּמַהֵ֗ר וַתֹּ֧רֶד כַּדָּ֛הּ עַל־יָדָ֖הּ וַתַּשְׁקֵֽהוּ׃
“Drink, my lord,” she said, and she quickly lowered her jar upon her hand and let him drink.
Then she offers to draw water for his camels and quickly empties her jar into the trough, and runs back to the well to draw more water.
וַתְּמַהֵ֗ר וַתְּעַ֤ר כַּדָּהּ֙ אֶל־הַשֹּׁ֔קֶת וַתָּ֥רׇץ ע֛וֹד אֶֽל־הַבְּאֵ֖ר לִשְׁאֹ֑ב וַתִּשְׁאַ֖ב לְכׇל־גְּמַלָּֽיו׃
Quickly emptying her jar into the trough, she ran back to the well to draw, and she drew for all his camels.
He gives her gifts and asks if there is room in her father’s house, she tells him yes and runs home to tell everyone in the household.
וַתָּ֙רׇץ֙ הַֽנַּעֲרָ֔ וַתַּגֵּ֖ד לְבֵ֣ית אִמָּ֑הּ כַּדְּבָרִ֖ים הָאֵֽלֶּה׃
The maiden ran and told all this to her mother’s household.
Like all good Jewish hosts, her family welcomes in the stranger and immediately attempts to feed him. But he won’t eat. He is a man on a mission and cannot pause to eat until he knows if this is the wife he will bring back for Issac.
After telling his story, her family agrees that this is the will of G-d and that Eliezer can take Rebekah to be a wife for Issac. Eliezer can finally eat, drink and rest.
But not for long. After a good night’s sleep, it is time to move out.
וַיֹּאכְל֣וּ וַיִּשְׁתּ֗וּ ה֛וּא וְהָאֲנָשִׁ֥ים אֲשֶׁר־עִמּ֖וֹ וַיָּלִ֑ינוּ וַיָּק֣וּמוּ בַבֹּ֔קֶר וַיֹּ֖אמֶר שַׁלְּחֻ֥נִי לַֽאדֹנִֽי׃
Then he and the men with him ate and drank, and they spent the night. When they arose next morning, he said, “Give me leave to go to my master.”
Unsurprisingly this seems to be a bit of a shock for her family. Her brother and mother want her to wait a little bit before leaving.
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אָחִ֙יהָ֙ וְאִמָּ֔הּ תֵּשֵׁ֨ב הַנַּעֲרָ֥ אִתָּ֛נוּ יָמִ֖ים א֣וֹ עָשׂ֑וֹר אַחַ֖ר תֵּלֵֽךְ׃
But her brother and her mother said, “Let the maiden remain with us some ten days (Lit. “days or ten.”); then you may go.”
Rashi has a lot to say about this verse.
First, he clarifies the time frame. We learn from Rashi that they are asking that she stay for another year, or at least ten months.
He is also bothered by the response coming from her brother and her mother but not her father. What has happened to her father? Rashi points us to the midrash, which states that her father wanted to prevent the wedding, so an angel comes and kills him.
Of course, the sudden death of your father would be an excellent reason to delay leaving home, at least for a short amount of time.
But Eliezer will not wait and tells them not to delay him.
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֲלֵהֶם֙ אַל־תְּאַחֲר֣וּ אֹתִ֔י וַֽיהֹוָ֖ה הִצְלִ֣יחַ דַּרְכִּ֑י שַׁלְּח֕וּנִי וְאֵלְכָ֖ה לַֽאדֹנִֽי׃
He said to them, “Do not delay me, now that the LORD has made my errand successful. Give me leave that I may go to my master.”
The final decision rightfully goes to Rebekah. She is on board with Eliezer’s schedule and agrees to go.
וַיִּקְרְא֤וּ לְרִבְקָה֙ וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ אֵלֶ֔יהָ הֲתֵלְכִ֖י עִם־הָאִ֣ישׁ הַזֶּ֑ה וַתֹּ֖אמֶר אֵלֵֽךְ׃
They called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will.”
Upon their return, she sees Issac and gets off her camel. Issac hears the story takes her to the tent of his mother, and takes her as a wife.
Why is everyone running?
What is everything done quickly?
This Parsha is about living life in the presence of death. The people you love will die, and one day, you will join them. Most of us try not to think about our inevitable fate as we go on with our daily lives. But other people make an effort to keep death at the forefront of their minds. Why? So that they might truly live.
The Latin phrase for this practice is “Memento Mori,” which translates to “Remember you must die.” The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca describes the practice as such:
“Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day…The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.”
This stoic practice is used to invigorate life and to create priority and meaning. By remembering that death is coming, we remember to treat each day as a gift. By constantly reminding ourselves of our impending death, we constantly remind ourselves not to waste any time in the day on the trivial and vain.
The placement of this story in the text is instructive. The Parsha begins by telling us about the death of Sarah. Then we are given this story of expeditious movement. And finally, the Parsha ends with the death of Avraham, followed by the death of Ishamel.
We can’t avoid death, but this isn’t a reason to despair. It is a reason to “move expeditiously.”
It is a reason to run after our dreams and not waste our precious time in this world.
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