No Foul Play (Chaye Sara)
Simplicity is natures first step, and the last of art. -Philip James Bailey
Abraham sends his servant, who the Midrash names as Eliezer, to the city of Haran, to Abraham’s family, to find a wife for his son Isaac. Eliezer is instantly successful, meeting beautiful, kind Rebecca at the well. Eliezer determined that a suitable bride would be one that offers to water his camels. Rebecca does so, demonstrating her kindness. He is greeted warmly by the rest of the family, including Rebecca’s father Betuel, and her brother Lavan. They agree to the marriage of Rebecca to Isaac. However, just a few verses later, Betuel disappears from the text, never to be mentioned again. The narrative continues with Rebecca’s brother and mother receiving gifts and then handling the negotiations the following morning.
The prime biblical commentator, Rashi, famously quotes the Midrash which gives a dramatic explanation for Betuel’s absence. He died that very night! He was apparently really opposed to this divinely orchestrated marriage, so an angel comes in the night and kills Betuel (though the Biblical text doesn’t mention anything of the sort). Another Midrash in that vein is even more interesting, which claims Betuel intended to poison Eliezer, thereby sabotaging the mission of the matchmaker. Eliezer, sensing some foul play abstains from initially eating the food (that is mentioned in the Biblical text), the food gets cold, and Betuel ends up accidentally eating the poisoned food himself – God, as seen in this Midrash, is not without a sense of irony.
However, the Bechor Shor on Genesis 24:55 breaks ranks with Rashi and the Midrash and gives a diametrically opposed explanation. He claims that Betuel was alive and well throughout the rest of the story. So why then the notable absence from the rest of the text? He explains that Betuel was Abraham’s nephew (making Isaac and Rebecca first cousins once-removed) and immediately understood that this was a fantastic, heavenly match for his daughter. After he gives his initial approval, Betuel no longer needs to either receive gifts from Eliezer to be assuaged or to be part of further deliberations or wedding planning. Rebecca’s mother and brother on the other hand still needed to be persuaded that this match and Eliezer’s insistence on immediate departure was indeed ideal for Rebecca.
Finally, they ask Rebecca herself if she agrees to the wedding and the immediate departure with Eliezer, to which she responds, “let’s go!”
May we always find simple answers when they are there.
To the memory of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”tl.