Throughout the Talmud Bavli, there are a plethora of varying languages employed to challenge an opinion, idea or source-text. One example is the הא גופה קשיא formula. What makes this challenge unique is that it doesn’t illustrate the conflict within the source’s words but rather demonstrates how the implications of that source’s words are seemingly self-contradicting. An example of this can actually be found in this week’s parsha.
After Avraham buries and mourns Sarah, and having himself reached a very old age, he sets his focus on the future, ensuring Yitzchak’s future is successfully taken care of. He calls his most respected servant and charges him, saying:
“I adjure you not to take a wife for my son from the daughters of Canaan…but rather go to my land, the place of my birth, and take a wife for my son Yitzchak from there”. (24:3-4)
Making sure he completely understands his instructions, the servant then asks whether he can bring Yitzchak to that foreign land if the woman he ultimately finds there refuses to leave her homeland. To this Avraham responds very clearly, adamantly declaring:
“Be warned about returning my son to that land…God Who promised me saying ‘I will give this land to your offspring’ [will assist you]…and if the woman you find refuses to follow you back [here to Canaan] you are absolved from your oath to me; just don’t let him return there!” (ibid 6-8).
And now the הא גופה קשיא: in Avraham’s first phrase, where he charges his servant not to take a wife from the inhabitants of Cannan, it would seem to imply that there’s an intrinsic negative characteristic of the Land of Canaan these women are from. However, Avraham’s subsequent refusal to allow Yitzchak to leave Canaan seems to imply a rightness to the land – one Yitzchak is not allowed to depart from. So, which one is it? During this scene, is Canaan praiseworthy or problematic in Avraham’s eyes?
The approach to answer this question is fairly straightforward: Avraham’s two instructions must not be motivated by his feelings about the land itself (for, as we stated above, his two statements would therefore be self-contradicting) but rather is reflective from the perspective of the people mentioned in his declarations. However, the more difficult issue to resolve is whether Avraham’s concern is about Yitzchak not leaving Eretz Canaan or the necessity of the bride-to-be coming to it? Within the text of the Torah, God never instructs Avraham to prevent Yitzchak’s exit from Eretz Canaan; and, conversely, Avraham himself left the land during a famine and there was no Divine criticism on that decision. So, it would be difficult to believe that Avraham’s specific instructions to his servant were motivated by his unwillingness to let Yitzchak leave. Instead, we can assume that Avraham was ensuring that the bride would need to specifically come to Yitzchak. And why would this be important?
Let me describe a scene: someone is told to leave his/her birthplace and homeland in the Aram Naharaim region and head to Eretz Canaan. Sound familiar? Avraham is instructing his servant in such a way that forcibly creates a לך לך decision for Yitzchak’s future wife! Avraham and Sarah did it; Yaakov and his wives will accomplish it; and although Yitzchak himself doesn’t have his ‘own’ לך לך journey (for reasons beyond the scope of this dvar Torah) Avraham makes sure that his son’s wife will! Every single player in the foundation of Am Yisrael needed to complete a similar Divinely charged לך לך journey; and Yitzchak’s wife would be no exception. (As to why a לך לך journey is so essential, well, we covered that in Discovering Texts, and during the Harova Yom Iyun in Queens last year J).
But does it work? Does Avraham’s servant succeed in creating this necessary לך לך opportunity for the next partner in the Divinely promised future? Later on in the parsha, we read about the morning that Avraham’s servant is ready to return home. Rivkah’s mother and brother ‘request’ that the young girl remain for a while before she departs for Canaan. Having received the okay the night before from Rivkah’s brother and father for her immediate return to Yitzchak, the servant is now understandably disappointed and angry when he hears of their sudden change of mind and demands that Rivkah leaves with him as previously promised. They decide to resolve the issue by asking the young girl herself – ‘do you want to go with this man?’ And Rivkah’s simple, one-word, tension-breaking response: “אלך”. Do you see it?! Brilliant!
There are many things I envy Israelis for – for example, the language of God is their mother tongue, their indefatigable fortitude and continued strength in the face of so many tragedies and hardships – but one thing I don’t envy them for is their ‘missed opportunity’ to achieve their own, personal לך לך journey. There aren’t sufficient words to properly explain the feeling I had (along, I’m sure, with so many others) when I decided to leave my homeland and birthplace, reserved my seat on a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight, and arrived in Eretz Yisrael. For, at that moment, I joined the founders of my past in playing an essential part in the national future. Avraham and Sarah, Rivkah, Yaakov and Rachel and Leah…and me. Not a bad list to be a part of.
 Instead of labeling the women as ‘women I sojourn amongst’, Avraham instead refers to them as ‘בנות כנען’, i.e. people who are defined by or represent the land they live in.
 When Yaakov tells Rachel and Leah that God has told him to return to Eretz Yisrael, they readily agree, saying, ‘what more do we have here in our father’s house…everything that God tells you, do’!