Friday, November 21, 2008

Eliezer's Role

Eliezer is referred to by two different titles in the middle section of this week's sedra. Starting in passuk 2, he is referred to as an "eved". This description persists until passuk 21, while Rivkah is running back and forth from the well to draw water for Eliezer's camels, at which point Eliezer is suddenly transformed into an "ish". This latter epithet continues until passuk 52, following Lavan and Besuel's acceptance of Eliezer's request, where he reverts to an "eved", by which title he is called until the end of the section (with two exceptions). What causes the change and its reversal?

Rashi comments on the usage of the chaseir form of the word "ulai" in passuk 39, which can be read as "eilai", that Eliezer had harbored a desire that Avraham would want to marry Yitzchak to his own daughter, until Avraham noted that such a match could not work, as Yitzchak was blessed and the daughter of the Canaanite Eliezer was accursed. This being the case, why is ulai only written chaseir in Eliezer's retelling of the episode, while in the original version of the episode as it was occurring, the word ulai is spelled malei?

The Maggid MiDubna makes an additional observation on this passuk. Eliezer's inclusion of this detail in his retelling of the story is somewhat strange. The implication that Eliezer was concerned that a family would not want to marry their daughter to Yitzchak implies that there was something wrong with him that justified this concern. Why would Eliezer have attempted to sabotage his mission in this manner?

R' Yaakov Kaminetsky answers these questions by citing Bereishis Rabbah 60:7, which states that, although Eliezer was originally accursed, he became blessed as a result of his faithful service to Avraham, as seen from Lavan's referring to Eliezer as "b'ruch HaShem". At this point, he became worthy of the title "ish", representing his departure from his accursed servile character.

Although Eliezer originally accepted Avraham's explanation as to why his daughter was unfit to marry Yitzchak, once he had become blessed, the reason no longer applied. Hence, he again sought a pretext to marry his daughter off to Yitzchak, and sought to sabotage his mission in this manner. Once he did this, though, he no longer was selflessly fulfilling Avraham's instructions, so he lost his briefly elevated status, reverting to an eved.

This explanation presents a catch-22 that illustrates an important idea in a person's avodah. On Nedarim 55a, Rava expounds the conclusion of the shira of the well to describe the progress of a person's growth. "Umi-midbar matanah" - If a person makes himself like a wilderness, humbly teaching Torah to all, he merits that the Torah is given to him as a gift, until he reaches "Nachaliel", the state at which he is a possession of HaShem, and "Bamos", spiritual heights. However, "Mi-Bamos Ha-Gai" - if he becomes prideful, HaShem lowers him. It has been observed that it is better to be a rasha who recognizes that he's a rasha, rather than a tzaddik who recognizes that he's a tzaddik, as the former recognizes the imperative that he change his ways, while the latter will slip into complacency and lose his high level, as did Eliezer.


Rashi cites the medrash which explains the great length that the Torah devotes to Eliezer's blow-by-blow description of his actions compared to the numerous areas of halacha that are built upon a single passuk by noting that the conversation of the servants of the fathers is more precious than the teachings of the children. The Torah is not merely a skeleton of dry halachos, but rather also includes attitudes and ideas that can only be learned from close observation of role models. This is one of the primary roles of this sefer, as well as of NaCh. If the Torah never leaves the Beis Medrash, it is of no use.

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