Chayei Sarah 5777

The Undetected Bias[1]

 …לא-תקח אשה לבני מבנות הכנעני אשר אנכי יושב בקרבו: כי אל-ארצי ואל-מולדתי תלך ולקחת אשה לבני ליצחק: ויאמר אליו העבד אולי לא-תאבה האשה ללכת אחרי אל-הארץ הזאת…‏
“Don’t take a wife for my son from the Canaanite women amongst which I dwell. Rather you shall go to my land and my birthplace; [there] you shall take a wife for my son Yitzchak”. The servant responded to him: “Perhaps the woman will not come with me to travel to this land…”[2]

Parshas Chayei Sarah describes Avraham’s servant Eliezer’s[3] mission to find a wife for Yitzchak. Avraham was very specific with what he was looking for in a wife for his son. He was concerned with the negative influence his neighbors could have on his son. Therefore, he preferred to find someone from where he originated. After giving strict instructions to Eliezer, his servant responded with a question. Maybe the woman won’t want to return with him to this land. It was a legitimate question. However, Avraham responded that no matter what, he won’t allow his son to leave the land of Israel.

The Torah proceeds to recount[4] Eliezer’s journey to Aram Naharaim, Avraham’s birthplace. Once he finds Rivka and realizes she’s the one for Yitzchak, he asks her family for permission to take her with him. He relates to them[5] the entire dialogue he had with Avraham before he left, and describes in detail his entire journey until the present. Chazal are bothered why the Torah felt the need to repeat what we’ve already seen. Some key laws of the Torah are only revealed from a single extra letter, but pages and pages of repetition are found in Eliezer’s monologue. From this, Chazal derive[6] that more beloved is the conversation of the servants of our forefathers than the Torah of their children. Meaning, there are profound insights that can be derived from the mundane conversations that the Torah is describing. The commentaries point out the various discrepancies between what Avraham originally told Eliezer and what he recounted to Rivka’s family, and what they come to teach us.

Rashi[7] points out that when Eliezer recounts to Rivka’s family his question he posed to Avraham (what if the woman won’t want to return with me), instead of being written אולי, perhaps, it is written אֻלי, which looks like the Hebrew word אֵלי, to me. What is this alluding to? Rashi says that Eliezer had a daughter, and was trying to find an excuse that perhaps Yitzchak could marry her. In essence Eliezer was asking, give Yitzchak to me, to my daughter. Avraham responded that Eliezer’s family was cursed, and Avraham’s family was blessed, so the match wasn’t appropriate.

Many commentaries ask[8], if the Torah is trying to teach us that Eliezer had ulterior motives when he asked his innocent question, why wait until the story was retold to Rivka’s parents. Why not show the same allusion the first time, when Eliezer was actually talking to Avraham? There, it was spelled normally. Rav Dessler says we can learn a tremendous lesson from this oddity.

Everyone has biases. If a person has a question about something they are interested in, it is impossible for them to have no preconceived answer[9]. Before even asking the question, the person has an answer that is preferable to them. This can cloud their judgment and prevent them from finding the truth. The problem is, most people aren’t aware of their biases. Only upon deep reflection do they become apparent.

When Eliezer first asked Avraham, what if the woman won’t return with me, he didn’t realize his bias. He didn’t realize he was subconsciously hoping Avraham would suggest his daughter as a match. That’s why the Torah makes no allusion to such thoughts the first time the conversation is described. Once Rivka was found, and it is clear to all that she’s the destined match for Yitzchak, any hope Eliezer had vanished. Once the ulterior motives were removed, Eliezer realized his true intentions when he had asked Avraham his question. This is why the Torah alludes to his bias only when Eliezer recounted the dialogue. It was only then that he had become privy to it.

These lessons are applicable to our own lives. We rarely realize what biases are influencing our decision making. Rav Dessler[10] advises that if a person comes to a decision rather quickly, without difficulty, they should be suspicious it’s coming from some sort of predisposition. That itself isn’t necessarily a problem, but one should investigate where this bias came from. Only decisions that come with difficulty, through a true battle for truth, are assured to be bias free. Only then can one hope to have found the true answer to their question.

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Rav Dessler’s Michtav MeEliyahu II p. 202

[2] Genesis 24:3-5

[3] Ibid verse 2, Yoma 28b, and Taanis 4a; Targum Yonasan ad. loc.; See Rashi to Genesis 24:39 who assumes this as well

[4] Ibid verses 10-67

[5] Ibid verses 34-49

[6] Bereishis Rabbah 60:8, brought by Rashi to Genesis 24:42

[7] to Genesis 24:39

[8] See Sifsei Chachamim ad. loc. See also Be’er Yosef to Genesis 24:1-3 § 2, who brings sources that by that point in the story, Eliezer was no longer considered cursed. He therefore now hoped that if Rivka’s family refused the match, he could marry his daughter to Yitzchak. What I don’t understand is that even if Eliezer was no longer cursed, it doesn’t follow that his daughter would also no longer be cursed

[9] Michtav MeEliyahu I p. 53

[10] Ibid p. 57