The condition of an enlightened mind is a surrendered heart. -Alan Redpath
Sarah has died, Abraham is getting older, and their son Isaac has yet to marry. According to the Midrash, Isaac is forbidden from leaving the land of Canaan, but none of the women of Canaan were considered suitable for Isaac.
Abraham sends his loyal servant, who the Midrash names as Eliezer, to return to Abraham’s hometown, Haran, northeast of Canaan, and find a wife for Isaac. Eliezer dutifully goes to Haran and is immediately successful in finding Rebecca, who happens to be from Abraham’s family (a granddaughter of Abraham’s brother, Nachor – making Rebecca and Isaac first cousins once-removed). Thankfully, Eliezer convinces her resistant family to let her return with him to Canaan to marry Isaac.
The Torah is effusive in its description of Eliezer, calling him “the elder of his house and the one who rules everything that is his [Abraham’s].” The Bat Ayin on Genesis 24:2 wonders as to how Eliezer achieved such distinction as a servant. He explains that Eliezer had such respect and awe for Abraham, that he completely identified with Abraham’s mission and goals and annulled his own desires to the extent that he was the ultimate agent on Abraham’s behalf. The Bat Ayin elaborates that when a servant of the king is so closely identified with the king, then the servant, in a certain respect, is comparable to the king, in his power and majesty.
Eliezer subsumed and annulled his own desires so thoroughly and took on Abraham’s goals so devotedly that he became comparable to Abraham himself. That gave Abraham the confidence to send Eliezer on this most vital mission for the continuity of his family, to find a suitable match for Isaac. Hence, the Torah’s description of Eliezer as “the elder of his house and the one who rules everything that is his.”
By surrendering his own ego and fully accepting the role of a humble servant, Eliezer became the authoritative representative of the great Abraham and the master of Abraham’s entire domain.
To resist the frigidity of old age, one must combine the body, the mind, and the heart. And to keep these in parallel vigor one must exercise, study, and love. -Bonstettin
Abraham lives to the impressive age of 175. The Torah starts the beginning of the last chapter of his life with the beautiful description that “Abraham was now old, advanced in years, and God had blessed Abraham in all things.”
The Chidushei HaRim on Genesis 24:1 quotes a dictum from Pirkei Avot which states: “He who learns when a child, to what is he compared? To ink written upon a new writing sheet. And he who learns when an old man, to what is he compared? To ink written on a rubbed writing sheet.”
However, the Chidushei HaRim states that Abraham did not follow this standard understanding of old age. It is easy and common as we get older to get entrenched in our ways and our thinking. There is less room for novelty in our lives. Our bodies, minds, and spirits can become ossified.
However, Abraham did not follow this common route to old age. Abraham embraced new encounters, new people, new concepts, new possibilities with vigor, with freshness, with an openness that belied his years. He combined the enthusiasm and adventurism of youth with the wisdom and experience of age.
This allowed him to continuously innovate in his life of service to God. It allowed him to obediently follow God’s directives while embracing and attracting to God all those who came into contact with him. This life attitude allowed Abraham to illuminate God’s word and wishes with his own personal imprint, with authenticity and originality, yet at the same time true to God’s desires. It was this dedication, commitment, enthusiasm, and drive that made Abraham the founding father of the Jewish nation.
May we be able to combine the vitality of youth with the wisdom of age.
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.
Choose your wife as you wish your children to be. -Proverb
In his old age, Abraham instructs his servant to travel to Abraham’s hometown of Haran, to his family, and find a wife for his son Isaac. He warns the servant that Isaac should not marry a local Canaanite woman. The Meshech Chochma wonders why Abraham is having this discussion with the servant and not with Isaac himself.
The Meshech Chochma answers that a son is exempt from listening to his father’s instructions when it comes to marrying. That is, if a son decides he wants to marry someone and the father doesn’t want the son to marry the woman, the son doesn’t have to obey his father, but rather can marry the woman he chooses (assuming it is someone that he is allowed to marry by Torah law).
That is the reason Abraham instructs the servant and not his son. The servant would obey Abraham. Isaac would not have to obey his father.
However, in the next generation, Isaac gives his son Jacob a similar command and instructs him not to marry any Canaanite women. What changed? Why did Abraham refrain from commanding Isaac about whom he could or couldn’t marry, but Isaac has no qualms about restricting Jacob?
The Meshech Chochma explains that in the case of Isaac commanding Jacob, the instruction was conditional. In the same meeting where Isaac commands Jacob about marriage, he also tells Jacob that he will pass on to him the blessings and inheritance of Abraham. The marriage command is conditional. In theory, Jacob could marry whoever he wants. However, if he wants to receive the blessing and inheritance of Abraham, he needs to marry according to Isaac’s instructions. If Jacob would have married a Canaanite, he would have forsaken both the blessings and the inheritance. While it seems a father can’t unilaterally force a son to marry a woman of his choice, a father can provide incentives to do so.
As we know, both Isaac and Jacob followed their father’s directives and married the type of women they wished for their sons. This led to significant blessings as well as to the creation of the nation of Israel.
May all our children marry well.
To the Yanofsky, Reiner, Galan and Fischgrund families on their inspiring Bat and Bar-Mitzvah ceremony in Jerusalem. Mazal Tov!
Hatreds not vowed and concealed are to be feared more than those openly declared. -Marcus Tullius Cicero
Abraham sends his servant (named by the Midrash as Eliezer) to Haran from Canaan, to Abraham’s family, to find a bride for Isaac. Eliezer finds Rebecca daughter of Betuel, and immediately understands that she is the one for Isaac. Abraham’s nephew, Betuel, and Betuel’s son, Lavan, greet Eliezer warmly, and upon hearing Eliezer’s account, immediately agree that the match should be made.
The biblical account that follows however, is highly enigmatic. First of all, Betuel completely disappears from the narrative. Secondly, Rebecca’s family appears to want to then delay Rebecca’s departure.
The Midrash fills in some of the gaps and provides a wild story. The Midrash tells of a conspiracy to kill Eliezer. Betuel attempts to secretly poison Eliezer, however, an angel intervenes, switching Eliezer’s and Betuel’s food, leading the poisoner, Betuel, to be poisened and to die. Hence his disappearance from the rest of the account.
However, that still leaves us with the question of the motive. Why did Betuel want to kill Eliezer? Why initially agree to the marriage and then try to delay it?
The Berdichever on the story explains that Betuel and Lavan actually wanted to prevent Isaac from ever having progeny. In their Talmudic deviousness, they knew the law that if a person sends an agent to marry someone on his behalf, the sender is prohibited to marry anyone else while the agent is away. The law is to prevent a case of marrying someone who in actuality would be forbidden to him without knowing it.
Their plan was therefore simple and Talmudically sound. They would accept Isaac’s marriage proposal through Eliezer, contractually binding Isaac and Rebecca. Then they would kill Eliezer and keep Rebecca at home, preventing Isaac from ever marrying anyone else and ensuring that he would have no progeny.
Of course, divine intervention assured that the evil conspiracy came to naught. It’s still not clear why Betuel and Lavan had such jealousy and hatred of their cousins Abraham and Isaac that they would want to destroy their future children’s lives to achieve their hateful plans. We see Lavan attempt to subvert Isaac’s son Jacob a generation later, only to be thwarted again by God.
It is amazing that millennia later we are still surrounded by the spiritual descendants of Betuel and Lavan, by people who hate us and want to destroy us and our progeny.
May all our enemies’ evil plans be thwarted and turned against them and may we merit to see the hatred and jealousy of the world turn to peace and understanding.
To the victims of The Tree of Life Congregation attack. May their families be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
A dog that barks much is never a good hunter. -Proverb
The Torah and the Rabbis had little use for braggarts. They consistently look unfavorably at those who talk much, but at the end of the day don’t come through. On the other hand, they laud those who under-commit yet over-perform. We should always be striving to deliver beyond expectations, as the ancient sage Shamai famously exhorts in Chapters of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot) 1:15, “say little and do much.”
Rabbeinu Bechaye on Genesis 23:15 learns the above from the story and actions of Abraham. When the angels come to visit Abraham, Abraham states that he’ll give them some bread, but in actuality brings out a veritable feast, including mounds of freshly baked cakes and freshly-prepared meat. Abraham proves himself to be the model of generous hospitality. The righteous say little and do much.
Conversely, the wicked say much and don’t even do a little. We see this from the scene of the negotiation between Abraham and Efron. Abraham’s wife Sarah had passed away in the city of Hebron. Abraham needs to bury her and has identified the Cave of Mahpelah, within Efron’s property as the ideal location. Efron is effusive in his declarations that he will gift not just the cave, but the entire property to Abraham. However, the bottom line is that Efron demands a princely sum of 400 shekel for land whose market value was likely significantly cheaper. Rabbeinu Bechaye adds that the numerical value of Efron’s name is equivalent to “evil eye,” indicating his miserly attitude.
There is a direct correlation of being generous with ones time and resources for the benefit of others and delivering over and above the call of duty, without saying much or drawing attention to oneself. Likewise, there is also a direct correlation between loud proclamations of future generosity and effort, yet a stingy and underwhelming performance.
Of any stopping place in life, it is good to ask whether it will be a good place from which to go on as well as a good place to remain. -Mary Catherine Bateson
The first Matriarch of the Jewish people, Sarah, is reported as having lived to the grand old age of 127 years. The phraseology however is unusual. It states that she lived “one hundred years and twenty years and seven years.” Rashi, the classic rabbinic commentator, explains that the strange presentation of the years of Sarah’s life comes to teach us that at one hundred years she still had the innocence of a young adult, and that at twenty years old she still had the beauty of a seven year old.
Rabbi Hirsch on Genesis 23:1 takes this interpretation one step further and explains that Sarah’s particular achievement was that she lived each stage of her life correctly and was then able to bring those positive attributes to the next stage of her life. Hence, she possessed an untainted pure beauty from her childhood that stayed with her the rest of her life. Likewise and perhaps connected to it, she retained a childlike innocence both in her young adulthood and throughout her long life.
It seems there was some inner quality in Sarah, independent of any outward guises or efforts, which radiated purity, youth and beauty.
I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it. -Thomas Jefferson
The servant of Abraham, named in the Midrash as Eliezer, is tasked with the mission to travel north-east out of Canaan to return to Abraham’s family in Haran and find a bride for Isaac. However, Eliezer has a conflict of interests.
According to the Midrash, Eliezer was hoping that Isaac would marry one of his own daughters thereby uniting the venerable servant to the family of the man he so admired. But Abraham prohibits Eliezer from allowing Isaac to marry any woman from Canaan, including Eliezer’s daughters, even if he should fail to find a bride for Isaac. Nonetheless, what choice would there be if Eliezer failed in his mission? If Eliezer were to return empty-handed from his search, then perhaps it would be better for Isaac to marry one of Eliezer’s presumably well-educated daughters rather than the local idol-worshipping Canaanites?
However, we see Eliezer acting honestly and nobly and even praying for the success of his mission. The Sfat Emet in the year 5632 and 5633 (1872 and 1873) explains that Eliezer was praying that he shouldn’t be biased. He prayed that he should fulfill his mission with completely pure intentions of finding the best bride for Isaac and completing Abraham’s wishes, despite his own personal hopes and desires. By suppressing his own private aspirations and staying purely focused on his mission, he merited unprecedented fortune in accomplishing his task. He finds the bride, Rebecca, our Matriarch, immediately – what are the odds amongst an entire city of people? Against family resistance, proposed delays and according to the Midrash, an assassination plot, Eliezer returns with Rebecca the very next day – his mission a historic and miraculous success – against all odds.
The Sfat Emet states that when one has a pure heart, God nullifies the very fabric of time and nature to assist man with his mission.
May we be so pure of purpose and lucky in our results.
To outgoing President of the Jewish Community of Uruguay, Alberto Buszkaniec. He has had purity of purpose and great success in his noble charge.
Like everything which is not the involuntary result of fleeting emotion but the creation of time and will, any marriage, happy or unhappy, is infinitely more interesting than any romance, however passionate. -W. H. Auden
The shortest, though perhaps the most challenging prayer of the day is the afternoon prayer (Mincha). The morning one (Shacharit) is the longest, but for those who introduce it into their routine, it turns into an excellent start to their day. The night prayer (Arvit) is not too long and is a great way to cap off ones busy day. But Mincha is different. It involves a very conscious decision to stop what one is in the middle of, and set aside some minutes for God.
The Baal Haturim on 24:63 reminds us of the tradition that our patriarch Isaac was the one who instituted the Mincha prayer. What is interesting about the Biblical source for this tradition is that immediately after praying that afternoon, Isaac’s bride-to-be appears.
Was it Isaac’s selfless time for God that earned him the appearance of a wife? Does stopping our personal pursuits and beseaching God for intervention in our lives actually lead to some stronger divine involvement?
The Baal Haturim ends his explanation with the famous dictum, Matza Isha Matza Tov (One who found a wife, found goodness). This perhaps goes against a growing trend that glorifies singlehood.
May those who seek a spouse merit divine intervention and those who have a spouse remember and reinforce the goodness that marriage is meant to be.
To the single people in our lives. May they find the right partner – at the right time.
Aunque Ismael tenía trece años más que Isaac, aún así parecía más musculoso y vigoroso que su medio-hermano de aspecto intelectual. Las décadas de Ismael como merodeador no habían hecho nada para disminuir su vitalidad. La enorme asamblea le abrió el paso a Ismael mientras caminaba con confianza, haciéndose camino para encontrarse con Isaac a la entrada de la cueva de Majpelá, en las colinas de Hebrón.
Isaac había estado pensando en esta reunión desde hacía algún tiempo. Él debería demostrarle el tradicional honor a su distanciado y exiliado hermano.
Ismael se detuvo a dos pasos de Isaac con una expresión indescifrable en el rostro. Todas las personas presentes parecieron contener el aliento, a la espera de ver cómo se desarrollaría el reencuentro de los hijos de Abraham.
Isaac extendió sus brazos a Ismael, dándole un ligero abrazo y besos superficiales en cada mejilla. Ismael correspondió por instinto, pero aún se mantenía tenso.
—Hermano —dijo Isaac con formalidad, inclinando ligeramente la cabeza.
—Hermano —Ismael reflejó el movimiento.
—Es un gran honor para nuestro padre que hayas venido a participar en la ceremonia de su entierro —anunció Isaac.
—Isaac, eres tú el que me honra por permitirme participar.
—¿Como podía ser de otra manera? Eres su hijo mayor. Por favor, condúcenos tú a la cueva para comenzar la ceremonia —Isaac hizo un gesto hacia la abertura estrecha cueva.
—No, Isaac. Tú debes ingresar en primer lugar.
—Nuestro padre habría querido que yo te honre a ti y que te dejara que comiences el procedimiento.
—Me honras por haber esperado por mí y permitirme participar en absoluto. Yo ni siquiera merezco este honor. He sido una vergüenza y una mancha para el nombre de nuestro padre. Tú eres su verdadero heredero. El mundo lo sabe —Ismael miró a Isaac a los ojos y luego bajó la cabeza.
Isaac se acercó y tomó a Ismael por el hombro.
—Es cierto que nuestro padre podría haber estado decepcionado con tu estilo de vida, pero no dudo de que te haya amado de cualquier manera.
Ismael miró hacia arriba, con la voz cargada de emoción.
—Eso es lo que es tal vez lo más doloroso. Él me amaba y aún así me exilió.
—No le dejaste otra opción. Amenazaste con arruinar su misión y todo lo que él representaba y creía.
—Ahora lo sé. Yo era demasiado testarudo. No entendía lo que me decía. Siguió dándome segundas oportunidades. Supuse que no habría una línea que yo no podría cruzar.
—Creo que si hubiera sido únicamente por nuestro padre, él nunca te habría desterrado. Dios le dio una orden directa.
—Sí. Padre probablemente debería haber sido más firme conmigo en una etapa temprana, antes de que tuviera que tomar medidas tan drásticas. Casi me muero en el desierto.
—Dios estuvo contigo, en su propia manera. No creo que Dios jamás te haya abandonado, ni siquiera en lo más profundo de tus problemas.
—Dios ha estado conmigo y me ha dado una gran riqueza, niños y el éxito en todas mis empresas. Sin embargo, yo no siempre estuve con Dios.
—Entonces ven, hermano —Isaac intentó maniobrar Ismael hacia la entrada—. Condúcenos a la cueva. Puedo ver claramente que te has arrepentido de sus acciones. Dios ama a los penitentes y sería un gran placer para nuestro padre que tú puedas iniciar la ceremonia.
—No —dijo Ismael con firmeza tranquila, sin moverse de su lugar—. De esto estoy convencido, lo he pensado mucho. Tú has sido y siempre serás el verdadero heredero de nuestro padre, tú eres el hijo de su amada alma gemela, Sara. Cualquier reclamación que podría haber tenido como primogénito, la renuncié por darle la espalda a las enseñanzas de nuestro padre. Aunque lamento profundamente lo que he hecho con mi vida, y voy a tratar de hacer las paces con lo que queda de ella, algunas cosas no se pueden cambiar. Algunos errores no pueden ser corregidos. Las manchas no pueden sanar por completo. Tú eres el heredero único y verdadero. La fe y la misión de nuestro padre correrán puramente por tus venas.
—¿Estás seguro de que deseas renunciar a este honor? —Isaac preguntó tiernamente.
—Sí, mi hermano. Además, es una falta de respeto tanto a nuestro Padre como a la multitud reunida que nosotros sigamos aquí debatiendo.
Isaac apretó el hombro de Ismael, y de repente lo abrazó en un abrazo fuerte y largo. Las lágrimas corrían por sus ojos.
Sin decir una palabra, Isaac dio la vuelta y se dirigió hacia la entrada de la cueva estrecha, seguido de cerca por Ismael.
Por primera vez en su relación, Isaac sintió que su espalda no estaba en peligro por amenazas de su hermano. De hecho, se sentía más seguro.