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He said: "I am Abraham's servant… tell me if you intend to do kindness and truth with my master, and if not, tell me, and I will turn to the right or to the left" (24: 34, 49)
The Torah twice narrates the events leading up to servant's (linked according to tradition with Eliezer; c.f. 15:2) meeting with Isaac's future wife twice. Firstly, as they actually take place. Secondly, when the servant is in her father's - Bethuel's - home. The text does not say that 'he told him all what happened' (c.f. 24:66), but recounts the word-by-word account of the events as reported by the servant. Rashi brings Bereishit Rabba (59:9) which remarks that this illustrates the great esteem given to the words employed in service of the Patriarchs. These were recounted in full, in contrast to practices commanded by the Torah which are sometimes just given by a phrase or a hint.
This passage may be compared to where, later on, the Torah recounts in detail Pharaoh's dreams as they happened, and recounts them when Pharaoh reported them to Joseph. Again, the second occasion could have been disposed of in a single phrase, along the lines of "Pharaoh told Joseph his dreams".
The Torah's long, repeated narratives of these stories may be there for the following reason. Each story wanted something to happen. The first was Rebecca's family allowing her to travel a long distance in the company of Abraham's servant, and become Isaac's wife. The second was Joseph's being able to use Pharaoh's information to gain his freedom and ultimately be the agent by which Egypt would be saved from famine.
In both cases, the narrative was not random, but very subtly framed as a means of persuading those in authority to happily accede to the request. With Rebecca, the story was presented as emphasizing the way that G-d interacts with human behavior with His Hand is clearly visible. That caused Laban and Bethuel to respond with: "This has come from G-d, we cannot say anything for or against it" (24:50). And in Joseph's interpreting Pharaoh's dreams, he phrased them in such a way that Pharaoh responded with: "As G-d has revealed all this to you, there is no-one with your wisdom and understanding. You shall be in charge of my household…" (41:39-40).
This is the point of the long narratives. It is to teach people that when they seek the cooperation of others to make worthy things happen, they have to employ the right approach subtly to make them readily want to assist.
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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Also by Jacob Solomon:
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