by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parashas Chayei Sarah 5767This week's sedar tells of burying (Sarah) and marrying ( Isaac).
The story of Abraham's servent (Eliezer) and his trip to find a wife for Isaac takes up much space in the Torah the story is repeated several times. Each retelling has some slight differences from the previoius recording of events. Each difference has meaning. Let us look at one Rashi-comment and see how Rashi deals with a midrash.
The servant (Eliezer, by the way, his name is never mentioned in this parasha !) recounts to Rebecca's family his story of meeting Rebecca at the well and all that transpired afterwards. They listened and in the end agreed that Rebecca go with the servant. It then says:
"And when Abraham's servant heard their words, he bowed earthward to Hashem."
He bowed earthward: Rashi: From here we learn that thanks should be given for good tidings.
If you remember previous events of this story you can ask a question of Rashi.
A Question: In verse 24:26 above there is a similar phrase:
"And the man (Eliezer) bowed and prostrated himself to Hashem."
Surprisingly, Rashi makes no comment there. Why doesn't he say that, "one is to thank for good tidings" on verse 26? In fact, the midrash in Bereishis Rabbah, which is Rashi' source, makes this comment about thanking for good tidings, on verse 26 and not on our verse where Rashi makes his comment!
Why did Rashi wait until now to make this comment?
An Answer: Several answers have been suggested. One answer given is that the first time Eliezer bowed he saw that Rebecca did as he had prayed and was grateful for that. But the story was not yet finished. He also needed to know that the girl would go (and be allowed to go) with him to be Isaac's wife. That he only knew once he heard the family agree. Then his bowing was his sign of thankfulness for truly good tidings.
A second answer given is that "tidings" mean a verbal report. There were no words mentioned in the first instance of bowing, only Eliezer's evaluation of Rebecca's behavior. But in the second case Eliezer did actually hear "tidings" as the Torah says "he heard their words" - the words of Lavan and Besuel as they agreed to send Rebecca with Eliezer. So this verse alone was evidence that one should show thankfulness upon hearing good tidings.
RASHI AND MIDRASH
In summary, Rashi has taken a midrash which the Sages had attached to one verse and applied it to another verse. Rashi does this frequently in his Torah commentary. Even in this sedra itself we can find another instance of this.
Compare Rashi's comment on verse 24:39. Rashi comments on Eliezer's words as he retells his story, "Perhaps (in Hebrew "ulie") the woman will not come back with me."
Rashi comments that Eliezer had his own daughter and hoped that Abraham would ask for her to be Isaac's wife. But these very same words appear earlier verse 24:5. There the servant originally spoke with Abraham and expressed his doubts that the woman might not agree to return with him. He uses these very same words. Yet Rashi does not comment there! More surprising is the fact that the midrash does comment on this verse, while Rashi uses the midrash's comment on the other verse.
How do you explain this? You can be sure that this is no accident, Rashi has a consistent line throughout his commentary on when and where to make use of a midrash. His consistency and subtlety are part of what makes the study of Rashi so fascinating.
An Answer: Rashi comments on the later verse, and not the first verse, for an obvious reason. The first time Eliezer expresses his doubt, he asked Abraham a reasonable question. He had to know what to do if the woman refused to come with him. But he repeated his doubts when he retold the story to Rebecca's family. Why? That was completely unnecessary. This time Eliezer's words were really redundant. It was because of this that Rashi saw the need to comment, in order to explain away the difficulty in the verse. He also points out that the second time Eliezer says "perhaps the woman etc" the Hebrew word for "perhaps" is spelled oddly and it could be read as "aily" meaning "to me" (to Eliezer i.e. this woman would come to Eliezer as new daughter-in-law.) Considering all this, we can understand that Rashi had a need to comment here on this verse and not on the previous one, even though it was identical and even though the midrash itself did comment on that earlier verse.
In our introduction to the Vayikra volume of "What's Bothering Rashi?" we have an easy on Rashi's use of midrash. Suffice it to say here, that Rashi and the midrash had different 'agendas.' The midrash wants to convey an idea, a moral or a religious lesson, and it uses the Torah's verse as a vehicle. Rashi, on the other hand, uses the midrash as a vehicle to explain the verse.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi." The 5 Volume set is available at all Jewish bookstores.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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