Chayei Sarah תשעט
Avraham and Yitzchak returned safely from the Akeida, and now it was time to plan the next stage of Avraham’s legacy. Yitzchak almost lost his life, and had he died, Avraham’s entire contribution to the world would have been lost. It was time for Yitzchak to get married and forge the next link in the chain of Avraham’s message to the world.
Avraham decided to send his foremost disciple and trusted servant Eliezer to his family to find a wife for Yitzchak.
Our story starts when Avraham makes Eliezer swear that he will not take a wife for Yitzchak from the women of Canaan, instead he must go to Avraham’s homeland and birthplace.
Eliezer asked Avraham. “Perhaps the woman shall not wish to follow me to this land; shall I take your son back to the land from which you departed?” (Genesis 24:5)
ה) וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו הָעֶבֶד אוּלַי לֹא תֹאבֶה הָאִשָּׁה לָלֶכֶת אַחֲרַי אֶל הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת הֶהָשֵׁב אָשִׁיב אֶת בִּנְךָ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יָצָאתָ מִשָּׁם
Avraham responded. “Be careful not to take my son there. Hashem will send his angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son Yitzchak from there. If the woman doesn’t want to follow you, you are exempt from my oath, but do not take my son there.”
Eliezer took ten camels and a document stating that Avraham gave all his wealth to his son Yitzchak, thus he is a very wealthy man, and set out to Aram Naharaim where Avraham was from. Eliezer made record time. With Hashem’s help, he miraculously made the three-day journey in one day. He settled down that evening next to the town’s well outside the city and waited for the women to come out to the well to draw water.
Eliezer knew that the wife of Yitzchak would have to be beautiful, smart and have exemplary character. Additionally to become a member of Avraham Avinu’s household, the icon of חסד – loving-kindness, the girl would also have to excel in the quality of kindness.
But how would he figure out which of the girls that he would see was the one with the qualities that he was looking for? He devised a test that would determine that she had the desired qualities, and then he prayed to Hashem to help him.
This was his prayer to Hashem.
“Hashem, God of my master Abraham, may you so arrange it for me this day that You do kindness with my master Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the spring of water and the daughters of the townsman come out to draw water. Let it be that the maiden to whom I shall say, ‘Please tip over your jug so I may drink,’ and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will even water your camels,’ her You will have designated for Your servant for Isaac and may I know through her that You have done kindness with my master.”
Even before Eliezer finished his prayer, Rivka appeared with her jug on her shoulder. Avraham did not specify to Eliezer that the girl had to be from a wealthy family. As a matter of fact, Eliezer was not looking for wealth, since he was scouting girls who were drawing water for their families. Wealthy families would send their servants and maidservant to fetch the water. Rivka was from a wealthy family, and had never gone to draw water before. But because she needed to marry Yitzchak, today she went to draw water for the first time in her life. She also left the house before Eliezer started praying in order to get there in time for the end of his prayer. This match was made in heaven.
She was the most beautiful of all the girls so Eliezer immediately focused on her. After she had finished filling her jug with water, Eliezer ran over to her and asked her for some water from her jug. Rivka could have said, “You are a big man, get your own water from the well!” or “Why me? There are so many other girls to ask!” or she could have said, “You take the jug down from my shoulder, it is harder for me than it is for you!” But instead of trying to minimize her trouble she immediately lowered her jug and gave him a drink. Not only that, she offered to water his camels as well.
The Bais Halevi explains that Eliezer was also testing her intelligence. Now that she had given him to drink from her jug, what would she to do with the rest of the water in the jug? It would not be too smart if she would just refill the jug and take it home as is. What if the guy had some kind of disease in his mouth? He would have contaminated the water, and that would endanger the entire family. On the other hand, to spill it out in front of him and then refill the jug would be downright insulting. It would reveal that she suspects there is something wrong with him. The solution she came up with on the spot was, to give the remaining water to the camels! This avoids both issues with no insult taken. So, she poured the remaining water in the trough for the camels, and then proceeded to water all ten camels. The Malbim adds that she probably figured that he had some type of disability which prevented him from being able to draw the water for himself, so she offered to water the camels as well, knowing he could not do it himself. With this, Rivka displayed wisdom and compassion for Eliezer. This is what Eliezer was looking for. His prayer had been answered.
According to some opinions, Eliezer brought along one servant for each camel. This makes Rivka’s act of watering the camels so much greater. Here stand 10 able bodied men, and she, a woman, is going back and forth to the well, who know how many times, to bring water to their camels. At any given time, Rivka could have said, “Hey you guys! What’s wrong with you? DO IT YOURSELVES!!!” but she didn’t. She finished the job all by herself.
As soon as Rivka finished the job, Eliezer ran over to her and gave her a golden nose ring and two bracelets to betroth her to Yitzchak. He then asked who her parents were, and if they had room for him to stay. Eliezer was very pleasantly surprised to hear that she was from Avraham’s family. Rivka’s grandfather Nachor was Avraham’s brother, and his wife Milka, Rivka’s grandmother, was the daughter of Haran, Avraham’s other brother.
Bullseye! Hashem had answered Eliezer’s prayer, and without question he had the right girl. Avraham’s merit and the merit of Yitzchak had carried the day.
It was important for the Torah to describe the events of how Eliezer providentially found the wife for Yitzchak. What raises the eyebrows of the Sages is how when Eliezer makes the pitch to Rivka’s parents, the Torah goes into meticulous detail to relate the entire story again. In the interest of brevity, the Torah could have just said, “And Eliezer told Betuel the details of how Hashem helped him to choose Rivka,” and we would have understood very clearly what Eliezer meant. What was the need to spell out each detail as Eliezer told over the story to Betuel and Rivka’s family? Of the 105 verses in this week’s portion, almost two thirds of them describe the details of Eliezer’s efforts to find the wife for Yitzchak. Our sages are surprised by this and Rabbi Acha had a very interesting perspective on the matter. Rav Acha said.
א”ר אחא יפה שיחתן של עבדי בתי אבות מתורתן של בנים פרשתו של אליעזר שנים וג’ דפים הוא אומרה ושונה ושרץ מגופי תורה ואין דמו מטמא כבשרו אלא מריבוי המקרא
Even the mundane speech of the servants of the Forefathers is more precious to Hashem than essentials of the Torah. Here, the story of Eliezer finding a wife for Yitzchak takes up two to three columns in the Torah, and the laws of a what is spiritually pure and impure are only derived from an inference.
We know that the Torah is not a story book, nor a history book. It is a book of lessons and instructions from Hashem to us on how to be better people. What Rav Acha is really saying is, that the Torah has elaborated on this event because there is much to be learned even from the mundane talk of Eliezer, Avraham’s servant.
Here is a sampling of some of the lessons our sages teach us from Eliezer’s mission.
One of the most noteworthy elements in Eliezer’s recounting the story to Rivka’s family is the reverence and respect in how he refers to Avraham Avinu. He begins his conversation by introducing himself. “Hi! I’m Eliezer, the servant of Avraham.” His whole essence and raison d’etre is “I am the servant of Avraham.” It is remarkable how many times in his short dissertation, he refers to אדוני my master. Eliezer was the son of Nimrod, the person who presented himself as a god, and Eliezer feels that the greatest gift and honor in the world is to be the servant of the servant of the real G-d, Hashem the G-d of Avraham.
Avraham Avinu is the very first person to have called Hashem “A-d-o-n-y” which means my master. What is so significant about this? Why the notoriety for such an intuitive description of Hashem?
Avraham lived in a world of idol worshippers. Avraham’s father Terach was an idol salesman, and had a showroom for idols. One day he needed to go out of town and left Avraham to mind the store. When he returned, all the idols were broken to pieces, except for the largest one, who had a beautiful basket of fruit in his lap, and a hammer in his hand.
“What happened to my idols?!” Exclaimed Terach.
“It was a horrific scene,” responded Avraham. “A nice lady came into the store with that beautiful basket of fruit for her god. All the idol started fighting over it, each claiming it was for him. The biggest idol took the hammer, smashed all the other idols to pieces, and took the basket of fruit for himself!”
Terach became enraged. “You know the idol can’t move! You know the idols can’t talk! Do you think I am a fool?”
“So why do you believe in them, father?” was Avraham’s answer.
Here’s the question. When you go to the store to buy an item of clothing, let’s say a tie. You have certain parameters which guide you. You need it for a blue suit, so it has to be a certain color, you have a certain price range etc. When buying an idol, what criterion does one use to choose an idol. “Oh! This one’s so cute! I’ll take him!”
The answer is, let’s say for example, I love to smoke, but I don’t drink alcohol. I pick an idol who says, “Don’t you dare drink alcohol, but it’s okay to smoke!” On the other hand, if I drink, and don’t smoke, I pick the idol who says, “Don’t you dare smoke, but it’s okay to drink!”
When one worships an idol, he has really proclaimed himself as god. His true desire in life is to fulfill his every selfish wish. He creates an idol that mirrors his desires, and under the guise of worshipping his idol and fulfilling the wishes of his god, he is able to enjoy his very own deepest desires.
Avraham was the first person to say, “Guys! You have it backwards. Hashem is our master. That means, that we must obey His wishes, not our own. We must subordinate our desires to His desires, for He is our master.” This was a revolutionary concept back in Avraham’s days. But he successfully taught many to appreciate this concept and to become servants of Hashem.
Eliezer in his relationship to Avraham modeled the perfect servant and thus modeled how we should be the same perfect servants to Hashem. Eliezer considered it the greatest privilege in the world to be the servant of such a holy and righteous man as Avraham. This is an important lesson for us. We should also consider it the greatest privilege in the world to be the servants of the omnipotent Hashem. In our society today, servitude and subservience are objectionable words. We live in America, the land of the free. To be a servant, or to be subservient to another’s will, goes against our concept of freedom. But when we would contemplate for a moment whose servant we are, Hashem who made us and made the magnificent amazing world we live in, we would consider it the greatest privilege in the world to do something for Hashem. Imagine if President Trump called you on your cellphone one day and said, “Joe, I need a favor …” You would be so elated and honored that he chose you to ask for a favor. How much more-so with Hashem, Master of the Universe.
Additionally, Hashem really doesn’t need anything from us, and there is nothing that we can actually give to Hashem. Hashem is perfect, and you can’t add to perfection. All of Hashem’s instructions to us are for our own good. We are the greatest beneficiaries when we obey Hashem’s commandments. The mitzvot are the spiritual exercises Hashem has given us to do to make us more holy. We may not see it immediately, but over time, we become better and a more holy people from the process.
There is a second but more subtle lesson in Eliezer’s repetition of the story.
Eliezer shared with Betuel that he asked Avraham, “Perhaps the woman shall not wish to follow me to this land; shall I take your son back to the land from which you departed?” (Genesis 24:5)
The word for “perhaps” is אולי . The Torah misspells this word in the repetition by omitting a letter spelling it אלי. Rashi comments, based on a Midrash, that the reason the Torah did this is because in this form, the word can also be read to mean “to me.”
Eliezer was expressing what he had just realized about why he asked Avraham this question. Eliezer had a daughter that he wanted Yitzchak to marry. When he proposed the shidduch of his daughter to Avraham, he rejected it saying, “We are the people who are blessed, and you come from Kenaan who was cursed by Noach; it’s not a compatible match.” Eliezer had one more hidden hope. What if the girl won’t want to leave her home, and will not agree to marry Yitzchak! Maybe then my daughter will become eligible. Eliezer realized that the real source of his question was rooted in his personal desire to have his daughter marry Yitzchak. At the time he asked the question, he felt he was asking it purely for the sake of the mission, but once he saw so clearly that Rivka was earmarked for Yitzchak from the beginning, and that his daughter was never an option, he was first able to see his bias in asking the question.
This is also a very important lesson for us, because when we have a bias about a matter, that bias will color our vision and prevent us from seeing things clearly. When we do not have a clear understanding of the matter because of a personal interest, we are bound to make the wrong decision. This bias also presented Eliezer with a personal challenge throughout his mission. He had to remain steadfast and faithful to his task of finding the right wife for Yitzchak in spite of his subliminal bias that the mission fail. Since if the girl would not follow him home Yitzchak was forbidden to go there, his daughter may become eligible after all. Since she grew up in Avraham Avinu’s house, she had the very best upbringing.
Eliezer removed himself from the process by putting the matter in Hashem’s hands. His sincere prayer to Hashem for help in his mission for the sake of Avraham his master carried the day and brought about the right outcome.
This approach can work for us too when we are in a quandary and conflicted by a matter requiring a decision. We can pray to Hashem to help us come to the correct decision since we have a conflict of interest and are incapable of reaching the correct conclusion on our own. If our intentions are noble, Hashem will always help us to reach the right decision.