Chayei Sarah 5779

Significant jewelry[1]

ויקח האיש נזם זהב בקע משקלו ושני צמידים על ידיה עשרה זהב משקלם
…the man took a golden nose ring, the weight of a beka, and two bracelets for[2] her arms, the weight of ten golden shekels[3] [4]

Avraham sent his trusted servant Eliezer[5] to find a wife for his son Yitzchak. When Eliezer decided that Rivka was the appropriate match for Yitzchak, he gave her several presents[6]. Rashi points out[7] that these gifts weren’t arbitrary; they contained subtle hints to future events. The first gift he gave was a golden nose ring, which was the weight of a beka. A beka is the weight of the half-shekel coin that the Jews gave in the wilderness[8]. Eliezer also gave her two bracelets, צמידים in Hebrew. This is a hint to the two tablets which contained the Ten Commandments, which are described as מצומדות, a pair[9]. They also weighed ten golden shekels, an allusion to the Ten Commandments themselves.

The reason for the allusion to the Ten Commandments isn’t so hard to intuit. One could say it was a message to Rivka that she is destined to be the matriarch of the nation which will follow the Torah, symbolized by the Ten Commandments[10]. However, what is the significance of the allusion to the specific fact that the tablets were a pair? Also, what’s the hint to the half-shekel coin teaching us?

One explanation[11] is based on a common understanding of the Ten Commandments. A careful study will show that the first five, written on one of the tablets, correspond to mitzvos between man and his G-d.  The last five, written on the other of the tablets, correspond to interpersonal mitzvos[12]. Despite this division, when Moshe was first given the tablets, the Torah refers to them in the singular[13]. This teaches us that the two tablets were completely identical[14]. What this means is that even though there is this logical division, we are to look at the Ten Commandments as a single unit. We shouldn’t think that we can choose to focus solely on interpersonal mitzvos, and ignore the ones between man and his Creator. Or vice-versa.

Eliezer had observed that Rivka excelled at interpersonal mitzvos. She very kindly offered to draw water for his ten camels, in addition to doing so for him. It’s known that camels can ingest a very large amount of water. Drawing water for them would have been an exceedingly strenuous task. Yet she offered to do so, without him asking. However, Eliezer wanted to impress upon her the importance of the other half of the Ten Commandments: between man and his G-d. Therefore, he gave her the pair of bracelets, alluding to the pair of the tablets. Kind deeds are wonderful, but they need to be coupled with faith and trust in Hashem.

This is similar to why Eliezer gave Rivka a golden nose ring, the weight of a beka, alluding to the half-shekel coin. The Midrash compares[15] the Torah to taste, and good deeds to smell[16]. When Eliezer gave her a golden nose ring, it was to allude to this idea. Rivka had abundant good deeds, represented by the sense of smell. He therefore specifically gave her jewelry for her nose, the provider for smell. However, the nose ring also had a specific weight in mind. The nose ring alluded to a half coin. This was to stress to Rivka that despite her good deeds, that’s only half the picture. She must never forget to also focus on the other half. The half which is compared to taste, the Torah[17]. Only then will she be the perfect wife for Yitzchak[18].


Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Be’er Yosef to Genesis 24:22

[2] Translation based on The Living Torah ad. loc. ויקח and על were difficult to translate together. This is addressed by Targum “Yonasan”, Da’as Zekeinim, and Ramban ad. loc. Ohr Zaruah HaGadol I Hilchos Kisui HaDam § 399 also addresses this, although I don’t understand his resolution

[3] Based on Targum Onkelos ad. loc., who translates עשרה זהב as עשר סלעין דדהבא, and סלע is the Targum for shekel (for example, see Exodus 38:26 with Targum Onkelos)

[4] Genesis loc. cit.

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

[6] Some say that these were for kiddushin (Midrash HaGadol and Midrash Aggadah to Genesis 24:22). However, this explanation has several problems: 1) according to the opinions that Rivka was still a child, she can’t accept kiddushin; only her father can. 2) Eliezer can only marry off Yitzchak if he is his agent, but there is no agency for servants. 3) According to Tosafos (Kesubos 7b s.v. שנאמר ויקח), Kallah 1:1 provides Genesis 24:60 as the source for making a blessing when performing kiddushin. According to those who say that this is a blessing on a mitzvah (see Mishneh Torah Hilchos Ishus 3:23), how could Eliezer say the blessing after he already performed the mitzvah (Cf. Raavad ad. loc.)? See Minchas Asher Bereishis § 27 – 29 for various answers to these questions. Others however say that these were simply a gift (Lekach Tov ad. loc.), known as sivlonos, which are usually given before marriage (Sechel Tov s.v. ד”א…ויקח האיש נזם זהב, see Kiddushin 50b). The real kiddushin occurred after the family consented (see Genesis 24:53, Sechel Tov and Chizkuni ad. loc.). However, this approach still has the above issues (Minchas Asher assumes the latter approach when providing his answers)

[7] To Genesis 24:22, based on Bereishis Rabbah 60:6

[8] Rashi to Exodus loc. cit.

[9] All the Midrash says is the two bracelets correspond to the two tablets. Rashi understands this is inferred from the language of צמידים. I couldn’t find another source which refers to the tablets as מצומדות. Cf. Eitz Yosef ad. loc. who says that the Midrash simply inferred this from the fact that bracelets usually come in pairs

[10] See Rashi to Exodus 24:12 and Ba’al HaTurim to Exodus 20:14 (quoting Bamidbar Rabbah 13:16)

[11] See Penei Dovid to Genesis 24:22 for another explanation

[12] Ramban to Exodus 20:13-14. Honoring one’s father and mother is considered honoring Hashem (see Kiddushin 30b). See also Beis Elokim Sha’ar HaYesodos Chapter 12

[13] לחת instead of לוחות (Exodus 31:18). It’s read as plural, but the way its spelled could be understood as singular

[14] Rashi ad. loc. See also Shemos Rabbah 41:6

[15] Vayikra Rabbah 30:12

[16] Learning is greater than doing (see Kiddushin 40b). Therefore, Torah is compared to taste, which is the main purpose of a fruit, and good deeds to the smell, which is secondary (Eitz Yosef ad. loc.). Or, knowledge of Torah is palpable, like the taste of a fruit, whereas good deeds are simply an aid to the Torah (see Avos 3:9, 17), just like smell simply improves a fruit (Ashad HaNechalim ad. loc)

[17] The Be’er Yosef cites Berachos 17a, which teaches that a wife encourages their husband and children to learn Torah, which gives her greater reward in the World to Come than them

[18] See Avos 6:2, that says anyone who doesn’t learn Torah is like a pretty woman lacking taste