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What We Learn From Eliezer’s Words

What We Learn From Eliezer’s Words

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Did Abraham and Sarah1 have a matchmaker? The Torah doesn’t say, so we can only speculate. But when it comes to Isaac and Rebecca, the Torah introduces us to theirDid Abraham and Sarah have a matchmaker? matchmaker and even describes their first dramatic meeting. The fascinating tale of Isaac’s matchmaker—and his journey from Abraham’s home in the land of Canaan to Rebecca’s hometown in the land of Haran—is told twice. First, we hear it in real time as a narrative and then again when the matchmaker (Eliezer) relates it again to Rebecca’s family.

While “eavesdropping” on Eliezer’s conversation with Rebecca’s family, we discover some interesting details that weren’t mentioned when we read the story the first time. Like the fact that Eliezer made it from Hebron, Canaan (now Israel) to Haran (now commonly identified as Turkey)—a journey of some 563 miles—in a single day. (And by camel, no less!) The first time the story is told, this detail is entirely omitted; the second time it’s told, this extraordinary miracle is uncovered.

Listen closely to Eliezer’s words, and you’ll hear him reference his miraculously quick journey:

Eliezer: “And my master [Abraham] adjured me, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I dwell. Instead, you must go to my father’s house and to my family, and take a wife for my son.’ So I came today to the well, and I said, ‘O L-rd, G‑d of my master Abraham, if You desire to prosper my way upon which I am going . . .’ ” 2

Granted, it’s hard to notice Eliezer talking about his miracle. Instead of spelling it out, he makes a gentle reference to it when he says, “so I came today to the well.” The word today is extra and unnecessary; He should have said “so I came to the well.”3 The extra word tips us off to the fact that Eliezer was saying something more.

Rashi quotes the Talmud and says: [Eliezer is saying that] today I left, and today I arrived. From here we learn that the earth shrank for him [i.e., his journey was miraculously shortened].

Rabbi Acha said: The ordinary conversation of the servants of the Patriarchs is more beloved before the Omnipresent than the Torah of their sons, for the section dealing with Eliezer is repeated in the Torah, whereas many fundamentals of the Torah were given only through allusions.

Let’s take a minute to break down Rashi’s commentary. He has a question: Why did Eliezer say “came today to the well”? And he has an answer: Eliezer is saying that he left Canaan and arrived in Haran on the same day. But then why does Rashi keep talking? Why does he continue with the words of Rabbi Acha that G‑d loves the ordinary conversation of Eliezer so it’s repeated? Rabbi Acha’s insight seems to answering another good question: Why does the Torah repeat the story of Eliezer’s journey?

But how is Rashi's insight about the repetition of the story relevant to Eliezer's miraculous journey to Haran?

Let’s explore the logical connection between the two parts of Rashi:

1) Eliezer told them that the journey was miraculously shortened for him.

2) G‑d loves Eliezer’s ordinary conversations, and therefore, the Torah records it even though we know the story already.

Here’s the link. Rashi begins by questioning Eliezer’s superfluous word today; by doing so, he’s also questioning why there was no reference to Eliezer’s miraculous journey the first time that the story was told. Look at Rashi’s words: From here we learn that the earth shrank for him. Why is it that only from here, the second time the story’s told, that we learn about this miracle? Why not tell us in the original story?

The reason that the miracle wasn’t mentioned in the original story is because it simply wasn’t relevant to Eliezer’s search for a wife for Isaac. But when we overhear Eliezer chatting with Rebecca’s family, that miracle becomes very relevant. It’s used to impress upon them the importance of this match going through; G‑d really wants it to happen quickly.

But wait! Now I have a follow-up question: If the Torah is succinct and only gives us that information on a need-to-know basis (hence, Eliezer’s miraculousWhy is the entire story repeated? journey was only disclosed when we needed to know about it), then why is the entire story repeated? We certainly don’t need to know the story again!4

And so, Rashi gives us an answer to this follow-up question. The entire story is repeated because G‑d loves the conversation of the servants of the Patriarchs even more than the Torah of their children, the mitzvot.5

To summarize, Rashi asks an initial question, he answers that question and then assumes that we have a follow-up question so he answers that second question for us as well.

And here’s a mystical take on Rashi’s words: Many ordinary conversation of the servants of the Patriarchs ... [are] repeated in the Torah, [while] many fundamentals [laws] of the Torah were given only through allusions.

Why are so many complex laws in the Torah are written in so few words? For example, the Torah tells us to rest on Shabbat without spelling out the 39 areas of creative work that are prohibited.

According to Jewish mysticism, this makes perfect sense. Something deeply spiritual by nature is difficult to express in words. The Torah’s laws (the mitzvot) are incredibly high; they carry a light that is otherworldly, and that’s why they aren’t able to be contained in many words. Instead, many laws are cryptically reference and need to be unpacked.6

By contrast, the ordinary conversations of the servants of the Patriarch are less spiritual; they are a part of this world and therefore can be expressed easily in words. They can even be repeated because they are so easily expressed.7

Which leaves us with one final question: Why does G‑d prefer the conversations of the servants of the Patriarch if they are not as sublime as the mitzvot and can be fleshed out in many words?

Because G‑d wants a dwelling place in this world. If the conversations of the servants of the Patriarchs areSo what does G‑d want? user-friendly, if they can be easily absorbed into this material universe, then G‑d values them. Those conversations are like the stories and anecdotes that a teacher puts into the lesson to bring the point home, to make the teaching more relatable and juicy. Very often, it’s the stories that uplift us the most.

So what does G‑d want? The deep teachings of Jewish law that are written in few words or the more accessible conversations that easily penetrate into our materialistic psyche? The answer is both. G‑d wants us to take the deepest wisdom that’s at first hard to relate to and make it so accessible, so relatable, so fleshed out and germane that it becomes a conversational piece. That’s the real job of a student of the Torah and a teacher of the Torah. Because G‑d adores conversations that are both profound and relevant.

And we learn all of this from Eliezer’s words.

Footnotes
1.
Sarah was Abraham’s niece and 10 years younger than him, so assumedly, they grew up together.
2.
Bereshit 24:42
3.
Eliezer is talking about Abraham’s command to him. It would make more sense to say “so I came to the well” following Abraham’s orders. If he wants to say that he arrived today, he would first say “I followed Abraham’s orders and left, and today I came to the well in Haran.”
4.
Actually, the fact that the story is repeated isn’t a question that Rashi would address. It’s not considered to be a problem in the simple meaning of the text. There are other parts of the Torah that are repeated, and Rashi doesn’t address why they are repeated. That’s why Rashi doesn’t ask this question and answer it right when Eliezer starts talking and repeating the story. It’s only when Rashi notices that the Torah is being concise with words and only telling us what we need to know (i.e., that Eliezer had a miraculous expedited journey!) that Rashi asks why the story is repeated.
5.
So if G‑d loves the conversation of Eliezer, why isn’t everything repeated? Why is G‑d stingy when sharing the miracle of Eliezer’s expedited journey? Well, were it not for this example of the Torah saving words (by not telling us about Eliezer’s miracle twice) in the Torah, we wouldn’t have asked the question about the repetition, and in this case, G‑d wants us to ask about it.
6.
This is why Rashi mentions the name of the Talmudic sage who first explained this answer, something uncharacteristic on Rashi’s part. Rabbi Acha is quoted in the Talmud as saying, “Make your study fixed and not temporary” (Yoma 19;b). The Torah learning, he said, should be so ingrained in your mind by reviewing each verse and remembering them. So Rabbi Acha tell us that the stories are written in detail, and the laws are written in allusions to remind us that we need to learn Torah and review it well to remember it and unpack its true meaning.
7.
Based on the Rebbe’s analysis of Rashi as recording in Likkutei Sichot, vol. 30, p. 90.
Mrs Rochel Holzkenner is a mother of four children and the co-director of Chabad of Las Olas, Fla., serving the community of young professionals. She is a high-school teacher and a freelance writer—and a frequent contributor to Chabad.org. She lectures extensively on topics of Kabbalah and feminism, and their application to everyday life.
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Anonymous MARYLAND November 14, 2017

Today I came from the well and then interpreting that as Today I left and got there in one day is taking liberties. Perhaps if it was read as TODAY this very day, I arrived at the well and started praying. To demonstrate that he did not pray on his trip but today, when he arrived at the well and no sooner did he finish than his prayer was answered. It goes a long way towards BELIEVABLE divine intervention.

Memonaides version is almost impossible to believe that Eliezer, his entourage and the camels, survived that kind of trip in one day. For people today, struggling to find G-d in the ordinary, it is too unbelieveable. I think we should focus on the first miracle as to how GOD does hear prayer and sometimes DOES grant them instantly. More impressive. Just my opinion. Reply

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