This week’s shiur is partially written by myself (mostly the English translation) but mostly by my son Eliav as the drasha for his upcoming bar mitzvah)
The central part of this week’s parsha is the story of Eliezer finding a wife for Yitzchak. The Torah goes through each and every detail, the mandate that Avraham gives Eliezer, the teffila of Eliezer, the kindness of Rivka and the meeting with the family.
After having read this interesting story the Torah goes over it all once again. The mandate that Avraham gives Eliezer, the teffila of Eliezer and the kindness of Rivka; this redundancy seems unnecessary.
A few pessukim later the Torah demonstrates another possibility of telling the story. When Eliezer returns with Rivka the Torah tells us that he related to Yitzchak “all that happened”. This time the Torah leaves it short and simple “all that happened” without repeating all the details. If it was enough to be so concise the third time why did we need all the details the second time.
It seems that I am not the first person to point out this redundancy. The Midrash Rabbah remarks “The conversation of the servants of the forefathers is more dear than the Torah of the children. The story of Eliezer is three or four columns while the impurity of a sheretz is learned from a mere additional letter”. In other words, in some cases we learn important Halachot from a simple extra letter in the Torah while the story of Eliezer is given columns to repeat what we already know.
Beyond the simple mass of additional text, there is another problem. The story is almost the same the second time around but it has a significant amount of differences between the two accounts.
There are various differences between the two versions, some are linguistic ones and some relate to discrepancies in the order of the events.
If the Torah repeats it all, and if there are differences between the two stories, there must be a good reason for all of this. If we take a close look I think we can explain that the first time we hear the story we are being told exactly what happened. It is the Torah that is talking and we are the audience. The second time around it is Eliezer that is the narrator and the audience is Rivka’s family. In fact it is not the same story at all; Chazal would not have praised “wasting” space in the Sefer Torah. The two stories are very different and have a totally different purpose.
Eliezer has one goal- to return with a wife for Yitzchak. He is convinced that he is in the right place and now he must convince her family to agree. He puts on his best suite, straightens his tie, clears his throat and begins his sales pitch.
In order to close the deal he needs to tell them things that they want to hear and to conveniently leave out details that are not helpful to him.
Let’s take a look at some of the examples in light of this explanation.
In the original story he gives Rivka the gifts and only afterwards does he ask who she is. When Eliezer repeats this part of the incident he reverses the order, he first asks who she is and only then does he produce the gifts.
Rashi explains this change in the story as Eliezer’s attempt to avoid tough questions. Why did he give her the presents before knowing who she was? He switches the events to appear to be more logical to the family.
The Netziv in his work “Hamek Davar” explains many of the discrepancies in the same manner. He draws attention to the description of Rivka as a “young girl” “alma” in Eliezer’s report. In fact if we look back at his original teffila he asks Hashem for a “naara” which is a very specific age (12). In fact Rivka did not match this age, especially according to the opinion in Chazal that she was much younger. Once again Eliezer was avoiding being thrown out because of a mistaken identity.
Rav Sorotzskin in “Oznayim Le Torah” points out a very interesting change that Eliezer makes. Avraham originally warns Eliezer not to take a wife from the Canaanites whom I live in “their midst”, when Eliezer repeats this to the family he changes it to in “their land”. What is the meaning of this change?
Additionally in the next few pessukim we encounter a fascinating example. Avraham is reassuring Eliezer that Hashem will help him and he tells him: “The God of the heavens that took me from my fathers house, and from my birthplace, and who spoke to me and who promised me that He will give my descendents this land, He will guide you….”. Yet when Eliezer recounts this conversation he says “He (Avraham) said to me: ‘God, who I walk before Him will guide you…”. Eliezer omits the leaving his father’s home and the promise of the land.
It is obvious why Eliezer omits the part about Hashem taking him from his father’s home, as it may not have been accepted as complimentary in that very home; but why the omission of the Divine promise of Eretz Yisrael?
Rav Sorotzskin explains that Eliezer felt that it was much easier to convince them to send their daughter to the long lost cousin, who, based on all the gifts and riches he sent, seems to have done well for himself, despite the fact that she will now live far away; rather than send their daughter to the long lost cousin with delusionary ideas of conquering the land in which he presently resides. The Divine promise had to go and the description of his dwelling in “their midst” had to made more politically correct in “their land”.
Rav Hirsch follows a similar line of thought and explains that Eliezer has to walk a very thin line; he must adjust the story to the level of yirat shamyim of Lavan. On one hand he needs to leave out the multitude of details that Eliezer sees as completing the picture of the clear hand of Hashem while at the same time making it clear to these not-so-perfect believers that the divine message is clear. Hashem must appear in the story but only in the right dosage.
He seems to have succeeded in a big way. The reaction of Lavan at the end of the story is “The matter is from God, we can neither agree nor disagree, here is Rivka, take her and she will be a wife to your master AS GOD HAS SAID”.
In light of the above explanation it is interesting to note one last Rashi. We have noted earlier that the story appears not only twice but actually three times. The third time is when Eliezer reports back to Yitzchak upon his return. This time the story is very brief “The servant told Yitzchak all that had happened”. What exactly did he convey to Yitzchak? Rashi says “he told him about the miraculously short journey and that he found Rivka through his prayer”. According to Rashi this time Eliezer tells nothing about camels, water or any of the other details, just simply miracles and prayers. It would seem that we once again witness the great skill of Eliezer in gauging his audience and telling them exactly what they are interested in hearing.
(I left all of the “thank you”s out)