ותאמר שתה אדני ותמהר ותורד כדה על ידה ותשקהו. ותכל להשקותו ותאמר גם לגמליך אשאב עד אם כלו לשתות.
“She [Rivka] said, ‘Drink, my lord,’ and quickly she lowered her jug to her hand and gave him [Eliezer] drink. When she finished giving him drink, she said, ‘I will draw water even for your camels, until they have finished drinking.’” (Chayei Sarah, 24:18, 19)
The pasuk in Devarim 11:15, says, ונתתי עשב בשדך לבהמתך ואכלת ושבעת– “I shall provide grass in your field for your cattle, and you will eat, and you will be satisfied.” The Gemara in Brachos 40a learns from here that one must feed his animals before feeding himself.
What about drinking? Who comes first?
The Sefer Chassidim (531) learns from our pasukim in Chayei Sarah that humans come first. We see this from Rivka, who first gave Eliezer to drink, and only afterwards did she give the camels.
The Shulchan Aruch (O”C 167:6) is discussing a situation in which a person has already made a bracha on his food, and between that and eating, he discusses something that is of the interests of the meal. In such a case, one does not need to make a new bracha. One of the examples the Shulchan Aruch gives is that one asks someone else to feed his animals. This too is considered “tzaruchei seudah,” as the Gemara says, one must feed his animals before he feeds himself. The Magen Avraham (ibid 18), contrasts this with drinking. In such a situation, if one were to ask another to give his animals to drink, one might (see Machatzis HaShekel) have to make a new bracha. He bases this on the Sefer Chassidim’s limud from Rivka. According to the Sefer Chassidim, since humans come before animals regarding drinking, it would thereby not be tzarchei seudah to discuss giving them to drink first. The Mishna Brurah (ibid 40) brings this Magen Avraham as halacha l’meisah.
The Yad Ephraim (ibid) asks, surely there is a better proof to this Halacha (that regarding drinking humans come before animals), from the pasuk in Parshas Chukas (20:8),והוצאת להם מים מן הסלע והשקית את העדה ואת בעירם – “You shall bring forth for them water from the rock, and give drink to the assembly and to their animals.” (It seems that his question stems from the fact that this pasuk is after Matan Torah, as opposed to the pasuk in Chayei Sarah. However, the Yad Ephraim obviously did not see the Sefer Chassidim inside, for the Sefer Chassidim does learn from that pasuk as well). He quotes the Ohr HaChaim (in Parshas Chukas and here in Chayei Sarah) who says that we cannot use either of these pasukim as proofs that man comes before animals with regard to drinking, since both are cases where man was in a situation of great thirst. Under such circumstances, it is obvious that one should give man to drink before animals. However, under normal circumstances there is no difference between food and drink; animals come first.
The Kli Chemda (Chayei Sara 4) writes that the Sefer Chassidim meant nothing different than the Ohr HaChaim, that animals always come first unless the human is specifically uncomfortable, be it hunger or thirst. He extracts this by the wording of the Sefer Chassidim: לענין צמאון אדם ובהמה יתנו לאדם תחילה ואח”כ לבהמה – “Regarding [the] thirst of man and animal we give to man first and afterward to animal.” The Sefer Chassidim does not say לענין שתייה – “regarding drink,” but rather “thirst.” If so, he means exactly as the Ohr HaChaim.
(According to the Kli Chemda a new halacha would appear. That is, specifically one who was not uncomfortably thirsty yet he wanted to have a drink, makes a bracha on his drink. But before taking a sip, he asks of a friend to quickly give his animals to drink. This would be considered tzarchei seuda according to the Kli Chemda’s interpretation of the Sefer Chassidim. One would thereby not be required to make a new bracha. However, for one who is thirsty, this would not be considered tzarchei seudah, and would require a new bracha. This is clearly not how the Magein Avraham and others understood the Sefer Chassidim.)
This suggestion of the Kli Chemda in interpretation of the Sefer Chassidim is difficult to accept, besides for the fact that many other Torah giants did not understand the Sefer Chassidim this way. Surely this is due to the contrast the Sefer Chassidim draws between drink and food. The Sefer Chassidim begins by saying, “Regarding [the] thirst of man and animal we must give to man first and afterward to animal,” and he continues by sourcing the pasukim in Chayei Sara and Chukas. He then contrasts this as follows: אבל באכילה הבהמה קודמת – “But as for eating, the animal is first,” and he carries on by citing the appropriate pasukim as proofs. Now, according to the Kli Chemda, why does the Sefer Chassidim contrast “thirst” with “eating”? A better contrast would have been “thirst” and “not thirsty,” or “hunger” and “not hungry.” Rather it certainly appears that clearly the Sefer Chassidim’s intention was to differentiate between food and drink, and that by “thirst” he meant “drink,” as all other Achronim understood him.
Other Achronim are bothered with the Sefer Chassidim’s halacha for a reason other than the Ohr HaChaim’s. How can we learn from Rivka who gave Eliezer before the camels if the camels were not her own. It seems clear from the Gemara in Brachos that this halacha to give to animals first is only if they are one’s own animals. There is no notion that one would have to feed every stray cat on the block before sitting down to lunch. If so, Rivka did not have any obligation whatsoever (not even tzar baalei chayim, see Igros Moshe O”C 2, 52) to give the camels to drink. Naturally, she gave Eliezer first. And as part of her great altruistic characteristics, she gave the camels too. But how can one see from this story any proof to who comes first in drink between man and animal?
The Chasam Sofer (Toras Moshe, Chayei Sara) brings the Elya Raba who asks this question. The Chasam Sofer explains that really the halacha is not like the Sefer Chassidim, and that even for drink animals come first. He elucidates Rivka’s actions based on the Gemara Baba Metzia 49a, that one can be makneh a small gift just by saying so. There is no requirement for a physical transaction (maiseh kinyan). That is why she said “Drink, my lord,” and quickly gave him to drink even before mentioning giving to camels to drink. She had been makneh just enough water to him to quench his own thirst, but no more, in order to insure that he was not required to give to the camels. Had she said, “I will give you and your camels to drink,” Eliezer would have acquired from her enough water for himself and the camels, and would have had to give the camels first, despite his thirst. Rivka chose her words wisely in order to insure that Eliezer got before the camels.
The Ksav Sofer (Teshuvos, O”C 32) uses his father’s interpretation to illuminate the pasuk in Chukas. “You shall bring forth for them water from the rock, and give drink to the assembly and to their animals.” He asks, why was it necessary for Hashem to tell Moshe Rabbeinu והשקית – “give drink” to the people? Would it not suffice to say, “You shall bring forth for them water from the rock”? Once Moshe Rabbeinu had released water from the rock, the people would have been perfectly capable in getting the water themselves. The Ksav Sofer answers that had Hashem just said that, then every individual would have attained water from Hashem and would have been required to give to their animals first. In order to insure that the people themselves would quench their thirst first, Hashem specifically said to Moshe Rabbeinu that he was to give them to drink. Meaning that as the water left the rock it was given by Hashem into Moshe’s possession. Thereby it was not considered to be given to the people directly by Hashem, but rather from Moshe specifically enough for each individual. Thereby they were not required to give their animals first. After their thirst was quenched, they were allowed to have more for their animals. Clearly, the Chasam Sofer and the Ksav Sofer did not see the necessity to learn these pasukim as the Sefer Chassidim did.
In defense of the Sefer Chassidim, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe O”C 2, 52) suggests that clearly Rivka was obligated to do tzedaka towards Eliezer. Inasmuch, her requirement was to do so in the form that Eliezer himself would have needed to do. Meaning, in the same way that had Eliezer had his own water he would have had to give the camels first due to his obligation of tzedaka toward the animals (if the halacha is the same by drink as it is by food, as those who oppose the Sefer Chassidim believe), so too when Rivka was to give water to Eliezer she was to give it to him in the same way that he would have distributed it. Her mitzvah of tzedaka toward Eliezer required her to do that which held preliminary status among his obligations. That is, to give to the camels first, albeit that they were not her own. Since we see that she rather gave to Eliezer first, the Sefer Chassidim learned from here that it must be because the halacha by drinking is that man comes before animal.
A question one might ask on this is, never mind that the camels were not Rivka’s, they weren’t Eliezer’s either! They belonged to Avraham Avinu, as did Eliezer who was his slave. Inasmuch as this halacha did not apply to him, how could Rivka be fulfilling her obligation via his obligation if he didn’t have such an obligation to begin with? The answer to this seems to be, that all these halachos of feeding animals are obligatory not to the monetary owner of the animal, but rather to the one who carries out the feedings (“mizonosav alecha,” see O”C 324:11 and Mishnah Berurah 29). Often, they can be the same person. But in the case of Eliezer, although he was not the monetary owner of the camels, they were given into his care. It was thereby his requirement toward the camels, and thus Rivka’s requirement to act according to Eliezer’s, as Rav Moshe writes. This same idea can be used to redefine the pasuk in Chukas. It was Moshe Rabbeinu’s obligation to give the Jews to drink according to their very own obligation towards their animals. Thus, since he carried this out by first giving the people to drink and only then to their animals, we see that when it comes to drinking, man comes before animals.
(See the Yad Ephraim who explains על דרך דרושwhy there should be this discrepancy between food and drink.)