“A Rose Among Thorns” by Benjy Shulman


The Torah describes Avraham’s sending of Eliezer to find a wife for Yitzchak in the beginning of Parashat Chayei Sarah. Before Eliezer sets off on his journey, Avraham forces him to take an oath: “Lo Tikach Isha LiVni MiBenot HaKena’ani…Ki El Artzi VeEl Moladeti Teileich”, “Do not take a wife for my son from the daughter of the Kena’anites ….Rather, you shall go to my land and to my kindred.” (BeReishit 24:3-4) Rashi quotes a Midrash that says that Eliezer offers his own daughter, whom we assume to be a Tzadeiket, a righteous woman, as a wife for Yitzchak. (Rashi, BeReishit 24:39 S.V. “Ulay Lo Teileich HaIsha”). Nevertheless, Avraham does not allow her to marry Yitzchak because she is among the daughters of Kena’an (what this means is debated in the Midrash). Avraham insists upon a non-Kena’ani woman because Noach, after becoming drunk, curses the children of Kena’an for their father, Cham’s, misdeed. Presumably, Avraham takes this curse seriously and is worried that it may affect the health and welfare of his descendants. However, one may ask a question if Avraham is justified in choosing a wife for Yitzchak solely upon heritage and not upon the woman’s personality? Nowhere in his instruction to his servant do we see that Yitzchak’s future wife must be a Tzadeiket; rather, all she must possess is good heritage.

Perhaps we can address this question by examining a story later on in the Parashah in which Eliezer travels to the city of Nachor, Avraham’s brother. At the local well, he asks Hashem to help him find the right girl for Yitzchak. Eliezer says to Hashem, “The girl who says, ‘drink and I will even water your camels,’ she is the one You have chosen.” (BeReishit 24:14) From the Peshuto Shel Mikra, the straightforward reading of the text, seemingly, the test set up by Eliezer is predicated upon the notion that the proper choice for Yitzchak’s wife is based on whether she is a kind person, not her lineage. However, this contradicts Avraham’s command! Rashi, in an attempt to justify Eliezer’s test, interprets the word Chesed in the Pasuk as meaning “fit for Avraham’s house” (Rashi, BeReishit 24:14). This implies that Eliezer requests both a righteous woman and a woman who is from a good lineage. If so, does Eliezer do exactly what Avraham orders him to do, like Rashi’s interpretation of the Pasuk? Or, is the Peshuto Shel Mikra more compelling, and Eliezer all but ignores Avraham’s instructions, substituting his own understanding as what would be best for Yitzchak? Interestingly, regardless of the correct understanding, Hashem still answers Eliezer.

There is a Midrash that aligns with the Peshat, and holds that Eliezer does contradict Avrahamand asks Hashem for a woman with good traits, not a good lineage. The Midrash states that there were four people who asked Hashem for something improperly; Hashem answers three of them in a good way, but for one, He does not respond positively. The three that were answered in a positive manner were Sha’ul, Kaleiv, and Eliezer, while the one that was not was Yiftach. (BeReishit Rabbah 24:14) The Midrash states that these four were considered to be asking inappropriately because they did not put enough boundaries on the deal they set up with Hashem. For example, Yiftach tells Hashem that, if he wins in battle against Benei Amon, he will sacrifice the first thing that comes out of his door. Unfortunately, his daughter is first to come out, and he is forced to sacrifice her. The problem with Eliezer’s “deal with Hashem” is that it is not specific enough and has no mention that she must be from the house of Avraham. However, if Eliezer does go against Avraham’s commandment, why does Hashem answer him positively?

Perhaps Hashem answers Eliezer in a good manner because He believes that, in theory, Eliezer is correct; a person should be more occupied with someone’s traits than his heritage. However, Hashem also realizes that Eliezer contradicts his master and therefore is wrong. Hashem admits that in essence, Avraham is actually incorrect in caring about lineage exclusively, and Eliezer is justified in putting more stress on personality. The real irony of this story is that Rivkah’s father, Betu’eil, and brother, Lavan,are two of the worst scoundrels in the Tanach. The Haggadah expresses the extent of Lavan’s wickedness, that “Lavan Bikeish La’akor Et HaKol,””Lavan tried to uproot everything (that Avraham stood for).” Yitzchak marrying Rivkah, a woman with wicked relatives, shows Avraham that his heritage is not necessarily more righteous than other people of the world. Also, Hashem demonstrates to Avraham that even if someone grows up in a bad home, he can still become a virtuous person, just as Rivkah is able to become a “rose among thorns.”.

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