I once knew a really mean person. I mean a really, really mean person. She was just downright nasty. Now this person happened to be my classmate, and the fact that I had to live with her diatribe comments day in and day out did not make me a happy student.
Then one day, as happens in a classroom setting, I had to go to her house. I can't remember if it was a school project or a missing sheaf of notes, but I do remember the bickering that I heard from her doorstep. Two children, boys, were fighting. One was probably eight and the other eleven. "You're an idiot," Mr. eight year old told his older brother. "No I’m not. You are." My friend appeared at that moment, cast her brothers some sort of impatient glance, and moved on to talk with me.
That's when I realized that she wasn't really nasty. Nastiness didn't exist in her vocabulary; comments like "you're an idiot" were merely a part of her existence. She didn't think twice about them.
So did that make her a mean person? Maybe not.
But there are mean people in the world. Not mere by-products of society, there are people out there who make a choice to act rudely, to speak out impudently. They do exist, those consciously misbehaving individuals. And when they act out their whole body is involved in the act. Their brains make a conscious decision to hurt or to injure and that releases chemicals to the rest of their body so that an entire being is involved in a conscious misdemeanor.
Conscious deeds or misdeeds exist on all levels. And while there is no parallel between a "mere" rude comments and the act of idolatry the idea of conscious choice does exist in both behaviors. Is that person serving idols because he chose to? Or is he merely practicing because that's what all of the neighbors do?
When Avraham decided that the time had come for his son Yitzchak to marry, everyone was serving idols. The question was merely: conscious choice or passive act. Ultimately, Avraham sent his servant Eliezer to search for a girl in Aram Naharayim as opposed to choosing someone from their native Canaan. The people of Aram Naharayim were considered a step up from the Canaanites as they weren't deliberately involved in idolatrous acts. Idolatry for them was merely way of life. The done thing. But in Canaan it was more than that. In Canaan idols were an important part of the nation's existence. People actually thought about the idols they had in their tents. People choose polytheism as opposed to submissively worshipping idols.
A girl growing up in the society of Aram Naharayim wasn't likely to be as affected by the idolatry around her. Such a girl, Avraham decided, would make a proper wife for his son. Indeed, the girl Yitzchak was to marry would be more than just a wife, she was to become the second of the Jewish matriarchs. And she had to be chosen carefully. From a place where cognizant choices reflected no evil.
And in Aram Naharayim, Rivkah was found. A virtuous woman amongst a nation of idolaters. From amongst the passivity she allowed only righteousness to penetrate her consciousness.
Translated and adapted by Chaya Sara Ben Shachar