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Parshas Chayei Sara

Avraham and Eliezer
by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

It was time for Avraham Avinu to find a wife for his son Yitzchak. Yitzchak's spouse would not only be his helpmate, but she would also be the 'eim', mother, of the entire Jewish nation. To be deemed worthy, she would have to exhibit the attributes of the Avos; to perform chessed, to publicise Hashem's name throughout society and be a paragon of humility. Surely the person assigned the task of searching for the future eim of the Jewish people would also have to be someone that is both trustworthy and that appreciates these fine qualities. Our destiny would totally be in his hands! Who did Avraham designate as his agent? - his loyal servant Eliezer. An examination of the praise that Chazal shower on Eliezer, reveals he was indeed a most suitable choice for this mission.

The Torah refers to Eliezer as 'the elder of his (Avraham's) household' (24:2). The Gemara explains that Eliezer was an elder who learnt Torah in the Yeshiva. The verse continues: "He controlled all that was his." This teaches us that Eliezer had dominion over the Torah of Avraham (Yoma 28b). Eliezer had complete mastery of Avraham's teachings and was authorised to disseminate his lessons to others. The Midrash adds that Eliezer had control over all that was his - himself, he had complete self-control and mastery over his yetzer hara. We can also learn humility from Eliezer. Although he expounded on Avraham's teachings to the public, managed Avraham's estate and was Avraham's representative to the world, he introduced himself to Besuel and Lavan as 'Eved Avraham anochi', I am Avraham's slave. He considered himself to be a mere servant, and did not take credit for his achievements. (See Bava Kamma 92B, Mishnas R' Aharon, Vol 1, p139.) This is one of the many lessons we learn from this tzaddik. As the Sages taught 'Yafeh sichasan shel avdei avos yoseir mitorasan shel banim'. Hashem is more pleased with the conversation of servants of the Avos than the Torah of their children (Bereishis Rabba 60:8). The Torah details Eliezer's journey to find Yitzchak's wife and repeats it as Eliezer relates it to Rivka's family. Yet many intricate halachos are derived from a single word or letter.

We cannot fully grasp Eliezer's greatness. If this loyal servant had a daughter, surely she would have been a worthy choice of wife for Yitzchak. Eliezer's sterling example would have taught her proper values and she also would have been privileged to witness Avraham and Sarah's kindness and be inspired by them. Chazal reveal that indeed Eliezer had a daughter. So why was it necessary for Eliezer to travel in search of a spouse for Yitzchak when his daughter was right there? Eliezer was also troubled by this. Avraham explained to him that "my son is baruch, blessed, and you are aror, cursed, and one who is aror cannot cleave to one who is baruch." Eliezer was a descendent of Cana'an the son of Cham who was cursed by Noach whereas Avraham was descended from Shem, who received Noach's blessings. This is difficult to understand. A curse from a tzaddik should not be taken lightly, still is it reason enough to pass over Eliezer's daughter? Why did Avraham ignore all of Eliezer's noble attributes and fine character because of a curse that was pronounced over four hundred years earlier. (Noach cursed Cham after the mabul, flood, which occurred 1656 years after creation and Avraham sent Eliezer to look for a wife for Yitzchak in the year 2088 - Yitzchak was born in 2048 and was forty when he married Rivka.)

The Sefas Emes writes that Noach did not actually curse his son, rather Cham did a despicable act which demonstrated that he was cursed. Noach declared that Cham's son Cana'an and his descendants should be slaves to Shem. Only by benefiting Shem's progeny who were blessed, could Cham's descendants reach their potential. On their own they would only be a destructive force.

The halacha is that an eved cana'ani has no lineage (Yevamos 62a). This means that any child he fathers is not legally considered his. This is appropriate given the gravity of the sin that Cham committed. Cham humiliated his father, not even showing the decency that any human deserves, let alone one's father. By this act, he demonstrated that he had no desire to perpetuate the deeds of his father and that he felt no link between the generations. In this way he severed any connection with his progeny. This is why Eliezer could not marry into Avraham's family. Although Eliezer's accomplishments were truly remarkable, they stayed with him; he could not pass them on to his daughter. Even though he surely provided her with an excellent education in word as well as in deed and she learnt from Avraham and Sarah, again these qualities would only remain part of her. She might be a model to follow, however her fine qualities could not become ingrained in her genes and passed on.

This is the exact opposite of what the Avos were. As we explained last week, Avraham Avinu's avoda, task, was to plod a path for his offspring. Hashem tested him ten times so that he would grow and internalise these traits. (The hebrew word for Avraham's tests is nisayon - from the word neis which means to lift up, as opposed to a test of someone's knowledge, bechina, meaning to discern.) They would forever be part of the Jewish people. This is why Hashem loved Avraham for his actions ensured that his children would follow in his ways. To be considered a spouse for Yitzchak, one not only had to have the finest character but had to be blessed as well. There could be nothing that hindered the future generations.

(The Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 60:7) relates that through Eliezer's dedication and loyalty to Avraham, he became baruch, however by then it was too late for Rivka was already betrothed to Yitzchak. Furthermore, it was only Eliezer who became baruch and not his daughter. His future children might indeed be "his" but not his daughter who was born earlier.)

We must realise that we are privileged to be Avraham's children. Let us live up to the potential they implanted within us and make the Avos proud.

Daf Hashavua Kollel Beth HaTalmud Copyright (c) 2001 by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

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