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Vol. 17 No. 5
Eliezer and his Mission
(Adapted from 'Otzar Ishei ha'T'nach')
Despite Eliezer Eved Avraham's unique righteousness, the Medrash ascribes the Pasuk in Hoshei'a "Cana'an possesses scales of trickery" to him. When Avraham instructed him to go to Aram Naharayim, he began to assess as to whether his own daughter was worthy of marrying Yitzchak. And it was with that thought in mind that he said to Avraham "Perhaps the woman will not follow me" (24:5), in the hope that his daughter would serve as a substitute to marry Yitzchak. But Avraham disillusioned him, by informing him that he, Eliezer, was cursed, whereas his son, Yitzchak was blessed, and blessed and cursed do not go well together.
When Avraham Avinu uttered the words "He (Hashem) will send His angel before you", Ha'Kodosh-Boruch-Hu prepared two angels, one to release Rivkah, the other, to accompany Eliezer (Medrash).
When the Pasuk says "And all the good of his master in his hand", says the Zohar, it is referring to the Name of Hashem, which led Eliezer on his mission and brought him back safely. Whereas according to the Medrash, it is referring to a document transferring all that Avraham owned to Eliezer's jurisdiction.
Three people, says the Gemara in Ta'anis (4a) issued requests of G-d that were inappropriate, Eliezer Eved Avraham, King Sha'ul and Yiftach ha'Gil'adi; two of them He answered favourably (Eliezer and King Shaul), and one of them, He did not (Yiftach ha'Gil'adi).
Eliezer's prayed that whichever girl would respond favourably to his request for water for himself and to water his camels should be the one who would be destined to marry Yitzchak. But what if she was lame? What if she was blind? Fortunately, G-d answered him favourably; the girl turned out to be Rivkah!
The Medrash cites three people whose prayers were answered immediately, Avraham, Moshe and Eliezer. Regarding the latter, the Pasuk testifies "And it was, that he had barely finished speaking, when Rivkah came out … ".
The Torah describes how when Lavan saw the ornaments that Eliezer had given his sister, he came running out to the well, with the intention of killing Eliezer (and taking possession of all the immense wealth that he [Lavan] anticipated he had brought with him). Eliezer, however, understanding his sinister intentions, pronounced G-d's Holy Name. This empowered him to raise the camels into the air where they stood above the well, and for himself to fly into the air and to hover above the camels. Realizing that this man must be a great Tzadik, Lavan gave up on his initial plan, and instead greeted him with the words "Welcome, blessed one of G-d" (Yalkut).
According to the Medrash, Lavan greeted Eliezer with those words because of his close resemblance to his uncle. Avraham Avinu. Consequently, Lavan, thinking that he was indeed Avraham, greeted him in a manner that befitted such an esteemed guest.
How did Lavan know what Avraham looked like? Presumably, due to the family resemblance (bear in mind that Besu'el and Nachor, Lavan's father and grandfather, respectively, were also Avraham's nephew and brother).
The Zohar, on the other hand, attributes Lavan's respectful greeting to angelic intervention. Due to Eliezer's staunch loyalty to Avraham, clearly displayed in his efforts to fulfill his mission successfully, an angel came and placed the words "Welcome, blessed one of G-d" into his mouth. And it came out of Lavan's mouth on its own, so to speak.
When Lavan's family saw the bracelets on Rivkah's wrists, they gathered to kill Eliezer, says the Yalkut. But when they saw how he picked up two camels with his two hands and carried them across the river, they realized that they could never match his strength (there is obviously something wrong with the time-sequence here). So what did they do?
They placed in front of him a plate which contained poison. And on the merit of Avraham, an angel switched his plate with that of Besu'el, who ate the poison and died.
When Eliezer declared "G-d has led me on the way to the house of my master's brother", the Yalkut explains, he was referring to the fact that he had 'kefitzas ha'derech' (arriving at his destination in miraculously quick time).
And when, after the meal, the Pasuk relates that "The slave took out silver and golden vessels, which he gave to Rivkah", this was in the form of Kidushin (betrothal). What he gave her earlier, upon arrival in Charan, was merely a gift (Medrash).
And finally, Pirkei de'R. Eliezer explains how Eliezer left Charan at midday, arriving in Chevron three hours later at Minchah-time. The reason that he merited kefitzas ha'derech on the way back, he maintains, was to prevent him from being alone with Rivkah at night-time.
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(Adapted from Rabeinu Bachye)
The Three Age-Zones
"And the years of the life of Sarah were a hundred years, and twenty years and seven years" (23:1).
Commenting on the seemingly superfluous repetition, Rashi points out that when Sarah was a hundred she was as sinless as when she was twenty, and when she was twenty, she was as beautiful as when she was seven. The first part of this statement is easily understood, since up to the age of twenty, a person is not punishable bi'yedei Shamayim. The second part is puzzling however, seeing as a woman of twenty is generally far more beautiful than a girl of seven. No doubt it is in answer to this question, that R. Bachye gives the following explanation.
There are three age-zones in a person's life, he says - childhood, adulthood, and old age. Childhood is the time when a person progresses, adulthood when he basically remains physically static, whereas it is during old age that he regresses.
What the Pasuk is therefore teaching us is that even when Sarah reached adulthood, she continued to become more beautiful, even though she had reached an age when other women tend to remain as they are.
One Tzadik Dies, Another Tzadik is Born
"And Sarah died in Kiryas Arba … " (23:2).
Bearing in mind the Medrash cited by Rashi, that Sarah died on account of the news of the Akeidah, this Pasuk really belongs directly after the Akeidah (before Maftir in Vayeira), R. Bachye observes. And he goes on to explain how all the Parshiyos in the Torah are written in a specific order, and that whenever the Torah deviates from the chronological order, it has a sound reason to do so (see his elaborate explanation inside).
And the reason that the Torah interrupts here with the Parshah of Besu'el's genealogy is not only to inform us of Rivkah's birth (as Rashi points out briefly), but to teach us that Rivkah, Yitzchak's partner, was born during the time that Akeidas Yitzchak was taking place, and that when Rivkah was born, Sarah had already died, so that she was born as it were, to take her place.
(It is unclear why the author made this last statement. The order of the Parshiyos would run even more smoothly if Rivkah was born before Sarah died, as is implied by Targum Yonasan and other commentaries).
Why Avraham Stood Up
"And Avraham arose ... and he spoke to the sons of Cheis" (23:3).
The Torah is coming here to teach us Derech Eretz (protocol), says R. Bachye - that it is correct to stand up whenever one talks in public.
It seems, he continues, that it was customary to remain standing for the duration of one's speech, and then to sit down. And that is precisely what Avraham did. That explains why, after the b'nei Cheis' initial reply ("You are a prince of G-d … "), the Torah informs us once again (in Pasuk 7) that Avraham arose - before making his second request of the b'nei Cheis to find him Efron.
Making Eliezer Swear
"And Avraham said to his slave …'And I will make you swear by the G-d of the Heaven and the G-d of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son" (24:2/3).
Avraham's concern at this stage, R. Bachye explains, was due to his advanced age, which the Torah just referred to in the previous Pasuk. He was afraid that he would die before seeing Yitzchak married. And by the same token, it was out of concern that he may die before Eliezer returned from his mission, that he made him swear that he would not deviate from the conditions that he set him.
He did not ask Yitzchak to swear, he points out, because he knew that Yitzchak would honour his wishes anyway, and besides, even if he did, he suspected that Eliezer (who was after all a Cana'ani [see beginning of main article]) would find some devious way of tricking Yitzchak and causing him to abrogate his oath. (According to Rashi, who explains later in the Parshah that Eliezer had hoped that Yitzchak would marry his daughter [as we wrote in the main article] Avraham had all the more reason to make Eliezer swear.) So all in all, it made more sense to make Eliezer make the oath rather than Yitzchak.
Incidentally, for the Shiduch to take effect, Avraham (and subsequently Eliezer) must have had express permission to arrange it, so that in effect, he was Yitzchak's Shali'ach.
The G-d of the Earth
" … by the G-d of the Heaven and the G-d of the earth" (24:3).
Only three Pesukim later Avraham mentions "the G-d of the Heaven", but fails to mention that He was also G-d of the earth?
To explain the discrepancy, R. Bachye points out that at this juncture Avraham was in Eretz Cana'an, the one and only country that G-d designated as His own, and over which He retained (and retains) direct jurisdiction at all times. Indeed, he adds, the people of Yisrael and the land of Yisrael (incorporating Yerushalayim) share this distinction, in that G-d refers to Himself as 'Elokei Yisrael' and 'Elokei Yerushalayim', and he cites examples of this. No other nation and no other country in the world can boast of this honour!
In Pasuk 6, on the other hand, Avraham refers specifically to the land of his birthplace, whose jurisdiction, like all other countries, G-d had handed over to a celestial power. That is why there, the Torah omits the title 'G-d of the earth'.
" … she went down to the well and she filled her pitcher and she raised it" (24:16).
If the Pasuk omits to mention that she also drew water, it is because she didn't, says R. Bachye. This in turn, is because as soon as the water 'saw her', it rose to the top of the well, releasing Rivkah from the hard work of drawing it. It was when Eliezer saw this miracle that he ran forward in anticipation. What's more, says the Medrash, this was a fore-runner of the well in the desert, which rose to meet K'lal Yisrael, as they recited in the Song of the well "Rise, O well, Praise it!"
The author ascribes the miracle to the Name of Hashem 'Vav' 'Hey' 'Vav', the first of the seventy-two Divine Names that emerge from the three Pesukim in Beshalach ("Vayiso … Vayovo … Vayet", as is well-known). In fact, this Name is hinted here in the first letters of the three words "Vateired Ha'aynoh Vatemalei" (and she went down to the well and she filled … ). Because, he adds, the splitting of the Reed-Sea (as well as producing water from the rock) were performed via Moshe's staff, on which was engraved G-d's seventy-two letter Name. What's more, he insinuates, that Name in turn, is based on His four-letter Holy Name, which, when spelt out in full, comes to seventy-two. Amazingly, the first letters of the words "Kadoh Va'to'al" (her pitcher and she raised it) is the acronym of 'Chaf'-'Vav' (twenty-six).
Interestingly, we find the same miracle occurring when Ya'akov blessed Paroh in Parshas Vayigash (See Rashi 47:9). Was this perhaps a potential legacy that Ya'akov inherited from his grandmother Rivkah and that he now passed on to Paroh?
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THE BA'AL HA'TURIM
"And the years of Sarah were … " (23:1).
Before telling us about the demise of Sarah, the Torah informs us "And Besu'el bore Rivkah" (22:23). Based on the Pasuk in Koheles "And the sun will shine and the sun will set", Chazal have taught that 'before one Tzadik dies, another Tzadik is born to replace him'. So too here, says the Ba'al ha'Turim 'Before the sun of Sarah set, the sun of Rivkah began to shine!'
And this is hinted, he points out, in the first letters of the three consecutive words "Sarah Me'oh Shonoh", which spell 'Shemesh' (sun).
"And Avram arose from the presence of his deceased, and he spoke to the sons of Cheis saying" (23:3).
This teaches us, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, that one is not permitted to talk in the presence of one's deceased.
"And Yitzchak went to Daven in the field towards evening; and he raised his eyes, and behold camels were coming" (24:63).
It is from this Pasuk that Chazal derive that Yitzchak initiated Tefilas Minchah. And, as the Ba'al ha'Turim points out, the Torah records how no sooner had he finished Davening than the camels bearing Eliezer and Rivkah arrived. In this connection, he quotes the Pasuk in Tehilim (32:6) "Therefore every pious man shall pray to you at the time when he needs it (le'eis m'tzo)" (which according to Chazal, refers to a woman, as the Pasuk says "One who has found a woman (motzo ishoh) has found good" (Mishlei 18:22).
This also serves to highlight the importance of Tefilas Minchah.
(See also K'li Yakar).
"And Yitzchak brought her (vayevi'ehoh) to the tent of (ho'oheloh) Sarah his mother … " (24:67).
The Torah uses the same word in Bereishis ("vayevi'ehoh"), when it writes "And he brought her (Chavah) to Adam" 2:22), in Melachim 1 (3:1), "And he (Sh'lomoh) brought her (the daughter of Par'oh) to the city of David, and in Daniel (9:14) Hashem hastened it (the calamity) and brought it upon us".
The Ba'al ha'Turim explains how all this hints at the Chazal, which describes how, when Sh'lomoh married the daughter of Par'oh, an angel came and stuck a cane in the sea from which grew the Kingdom of Rome. Hence the Pasuk states "And he brought her to the city of David … and Hashem hastened it and brought it upon us". Before marrying the daughter of Par'oh, Sh'lomoh ruled over the Heaven; after marrying her, he ruled over the earth. This is similar to Adam, who was expelled from his Celestial connections following his sin; whereas by Yitzchak it was the opposite - because with the advent of Rivkah, the Shechinah rested on his tent, just like it had done when Sarah was there, as the Medrash explains, creating Heavenly connections that he had not previously had.
(Ibid.) The word "ho'oheloh" appears eight times in T'nach. This is with reference, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, to the eight locations where the Shechinah rested - the Mishkan, Gilgal, Shiloh, Nov, Giv'on, and the three Batei-Mikdash.
"And she (Rivkah) became his (Yitzchak's) wife … " (Ibid.). "And Avraham proceeded and took a wife whose name was Keturah" (25:1).
We learn from here, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, that it is considered protocol for someone whose wife dies, leaving him with (grown-up, unmarried) children, to marry them off first, before taking another wife for himself.
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The Kamatz vs. the Patach
(Adapted from Rabeinu Bachye)
Similarly, when someone confuses a 'Kamatz' and a 'Patach' (a dot's difference, as we explained last week), he either corrupts the meaning of the word, or he is guilty of blasphemy. For example, the Pasuk in Vayeira 18:23 "ha'af tispeh Tzadik im rosho", which means "Will You even destroy (or will you destroy in Your anger) the Tzadikim together with the resha'im?". If one changes the 'Patach' into a 'Kamatz', to read the word "ho'af", it will translate as "The nose will destroy … ". Or take the Pasuk in Iyov (8:3) "ha'Keil ye'aves Mishpat" - 'Would G-d pervert justice', and change the 'Patach' into a 'Kamatz', to read 'ho'Keil ye'aves Mishpat" (Chalilah), it will mean "G-d will pervert justice" - a phrase that is extremely blasphemous. The above distinction, of course, does not exist with regard to the majority of Sefardim, who do not differentiate between a 'Kamatz' and a 'Patach'.
Furthermore, the expert grammarians point out, whereas the 'Kamatz' is used in connection with the truth, that is not the case with the 'Patach'. And they use this distinction to explain a Pasuk in Shmuel. The Pasuk there (2, 1:10), quoting King Shaul's armour-bearer, when he reported Sha'ul Hamelech's death to David Hamelech, states "vo'a'amod olov va'amoseseihu" (and I stood over him and I killed him). Based on the above explanation, the 'Komatz Vav' in "vo'a'amod" indicates that the armour-bearer did indeed stand over the king, perhaps even with the intention of killing him (to prevent him from falling into the hands of the P'lishtim); Whereas the 'Patach Vav' in "va'amoseseihu" signifies that the armour-bearer was not telling the truth (presumably he expected David Hamelech to praise him for killing his arch-enemy). For we know that it was Shaul Hamelech who took his own life by falling on his sword.
All of these demonstrate the profound wisdom of the Divine Torah and of the Holy language in which it is written. Indeed, that is why the letters are compared to a human body and the vowels, to the Neshamah, as is explained in the Seifer ha'Bahir. Similarly, the Gemara in Megilah (3a), commenting on the Pasuk in Nechemyah "ve'shum seichel" explains that this refers to the vowels, to teach us that vowels are based on a tradition that goes back all the way to Ezra and Nechemyah (though this does not conform with our text of the Gemara).
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