As soon as Father and Saul had finished the morning meal, Rebekah began clearing the dishes from the table. If she hurried with her work, she might be the first to arrive at Hannah’s house.
“I’ll help you with the dishes before I leave,” Mother said.
“Leave?” Rebekah asked in surprise. “Are you going to Grandmother’s again?”
“No,” Mother answered. “But I must go to Ezra the potter’s home. His wife has been ill for many days and there is much that needs to be done. Have Rachel help you make the beds. Baby Anna will be ready to go back to sleep at midmorning.”
Rebekah looked at her mother in alarm. “Are you leaving the little ones with me?” she asked.
“Yes, dear, I must leave them,” Mother answered. “A home where there is sickness is no place to take children. You’ll be all right.”
“But I had planned to go to Hannah’s house today when my work was finished,” Rebekah protested.
“When there is need,” Mother said gently, “plans must often be changed. You can go to Hannah’s house another day.”
“Can’t someone else help this once? Why does it always have to be you?”
“Others will help,” Mother said. “There will be need for many to offer assistance before the potter’s wife is well. And so you must care for our own little ones today. Father and Saul will not return at midday, but lunch must be prepared for Rachel and Baby Anna.”
It isn’t fair, Rebekah thought. Why must I always miss the fun and stay home? Hannah and the other girls never have to stay home and work. It just isn’t fair!
After mother left, Rebekah forced herself to take care of the children and the house but she was tired and cross all day. That evening, however, Mother didn’t seem to notice that Rebekah was out of sorts when she said to her daughter, “I’ve just learned that the harvesters have finished in the grainfields west of the city. Grandmother will come to care for the younger ones and tomorrow you and I shall join the gleaners.”
“The gleaners?” Rebekah cried in disbelief. “The wife of Simon the wool merchant has no need to glean in the fields.”
“Perhaps not for her own family,” Mother answered soberly. “But her daughter needs to learn to do such work.”
Then she put a hand on Rebekah’s arm. “My child, a woman never knows when there might be need in her own family. She must learn to do many things—even difficult tasks.
“A woman’s hands are made for service,” Mother continued, “if not service to her own family then to others less fortunate. Always there is need and always there is opportunity.”
Once again Rebekah had to tell her friends that she could not play, and Hannah smirked when Rebekah suggested that they come along too. “My father asks no such help from the women of his household,” she answered haughtily.
A blush of shame rose to Rebekah’s cheeks. Why can’t Mother see how she makes me look to my friends? she thought indignantly.
The sun had not risen when Grandmother came to care for the little ones. Resentment was heavy in Rebekah’s heart as she walked beside Mother, each carrying a basket through the city and to the fields beyond. A few other women had already reached the fields.
Mother showed Rebekah how to find the heads of grain that had been missed by the reapers and how to break them off and place them in the basket. Mother even stooped to gather kernels of grain that had fallen to the ground.
“We must work as quickly as possible,” she explained, “before the birds come to take the grain from us.”
At first, Rebekah had difficulty in snapping the heads off the grain without breaking a large part of the stem. But after a while she became more skillful. Gradually the bottom of her basket began to fill. Her back and arms grew weary, and Rebekah paused to stretch. She glanced around the field and saw that many more people had come now to glean—women and children of all ages.
Rebekah was startled to see some who were there—women so old and crippled that it would seem they could not move across the field. But still they worked. And there were children working, too, children so small that they were little more than toddlers.
Rebekah’s hands flew faster as, in a sudden rush of compassion, she looked at the people working in the fields. Perhaps if I make a good gleaning, Mother will let me put some of my grain into the basket of that old woman or into the small boy’s basket, she thought.
Pausing once more to rest her weary back, Rebekah found herself within a few feet of a girl about her own age who looked up and smiled shyly. “That is the hardest part of gleaning,” she said. “The tired back. But it grows easier after a few days.”
“Then you have gleaned before?” Rebekah asked.
“Many times.” The girl rubbed her back, then stooped down to the work. “The men in these fields are always generous with what they leave for the gleaners. It is truly a blessing.”
Rebekah glanced quickly toward the other girl. A blessing to glean? she wondered.
Surprise must have shown on her face, for the girl said, “Two years ago my father was gored by an ox, and he can’t do hard work anymore. My mother is not strong either. There are three children younger than I, so we each do what we can.”
“This is my first time in the fields,” Rebekah admitted. “My mother said that I must learn. But I am so slow.”
“You will learn,” the girl assured her.
“My mother is over there,” Rebekah said, pointing across the field.
The girl nodded. “Yes, everyone knows her. She comes to the fields each year. And within the city there are many she has helped.”
The two girls worked together until Mother came to say that it was time for the midday meal.
“Eat with us,” Rebekah urged her new friend.
“I—I had not thought to stop just yet and my brother—”
The girl glanced toward the small boy whom Rebekah had noticed earlier.
“Your brother also,” Rebekah put in quickly. She guessed they had no food to bring. “Please share with us.”
The tired look left the small boy’s face at sight of the generous bundle of food. Hungry as she was, Rebekah ate less than she wanted and passed the extra portion to him.
After the girl and her brother returned to the gleaning, Rebekah asked her mother, “If I work hard every day of the gleaning, may I share what I glean with others who have need?”
Tears stood bright in her mother’s eyes, and she put her arms around Rebekah and said, “My child, such pride you give me. So quickly have you learned the way of compassion and love.”
“I should have learned long ago.” Rebekah replied, “when I have had you for an example.”