Chayei Sarah 5780


Inevitable choice[1]

ויאמר אברהם אל-עבדו זקן ביתו המשל בכל-אשר-לו וגו’‏
Avraham said to his servant, the elder of his household, the one in charge of all his belongings…[2]

A major part of this week’s parsha is Avraham sending his servant on a mission. He was to go to Avraham’s homeland to find a wife for his son Yitzchak. The Torah tells us few facts about Avraham’s servant, Eliezer[3]. He was the “elder” of Avraham’s household. He oversaw all of his belongings. He ensured everyone in Avraham’s camp had the food they needed[4]. We see his dedication to Avraham’s will from his alacrity to fulfill the mission. He didn’t take credit for anything and attributed his success in the mission to Hashem, solely in Avraham’s merit. Besides that, we don’t really know his background. How did he become the servant of Avraham?

One version of the story is that Eliezer was Canaan[5], the son of Cham, the son of Noach. Canaan and his descendants were cursed with slavery[6]. As such, whether he liked it or not, Eliezer knew he would be a slave. Eliezer decided then that if no matter what he would become a slave, best he become a slave to someone like Avraham[7]. This way he would be treated properly, and be in the best hands. He would learn how to be a good person, and make a positive difference in the world. The alternative could have been some ruthless person’s janitor, or worse. It was considered a highly intelligent decision on his part[8].

It would seem like he chose the most obvious option. However, we find ourselves in a similar situation. How many of us make the right choice? The verse says[9] that man was created to toil. The simple meaning seems like it’s referring to manual labor. However, Chazal tell us[10] that the verse is referring to spiritual accomplishments. We’re created to toil in Torah, toil in mitzvos. However, a person has free will not to toil in these matters. Yet, whether they like it or not, the verse tells us we were created to toil. It seems like it’s inevitable. It appears that we have a choice. What will we be toiling in? Physical labor? Or spiritual pursuits. Like Eliezer, it would be wise to choose the better option. Good Shabbos

[1] Based on a shiur by Rabbi Elimelech Reznick given in 5773

[2] Genesis 24:2

[3] The above verse doesn’t call him by name. In fact, ibid 15:2 is the only verse in scripture to mention him by name, despite the fact that he plays a major role in this week’s parsha. However, Yoma 28b, and Taanis 4a make it clear that Avraham’s servant is always referring to Eliezer. Targum Yonasan ad. loc. also indicates this fact. See Rashi to Genesis 24:39, who assumes this as well

[4] בן דמשק ביתי (Genesis 15:2), according to Targum Onkelos and Rashi’s explanation

[5] Bereishis Rabbah 59:9 and Vayikra Rabbah 17:5. Zohar III parshas Behar Raya Mehemna p. 111a simply says that Eliezer was a descendant of Cham. Yalkut Shimoni § 109 says that he was the son of Nimrod (who was a grandson of Cham, see Genesis 10:8), and Chizkuni to Genesis 15:2 says he was a descendant of Nimrod. I’m not sure if these opinions fit with the opinion that Eliezer was Og, the King of Bashan (Soferim 21:9; Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer Chapter 16; Yalkut Shimoni § 765). See Niddah 61 and Zevachim 113b for the history of Og, and how he preceded the flood

[6] Genesis 9:25

[7] Bereishis Rabbah 60:2. Cf. Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer Chapter 16 and Midrash HaGadol to Genesis 24:2 which say that Nimrod sold his servant Eliezer to Avraham. This would be very interesting according to the opinions that Eliezer was the son of Nimrod

[8] The Midrash says he was the servant referred to in Proverbs 17:2 as an עבד משכיל

[9] אדם לעמל יולד (Job 5:7)

[10] Sanhedrin 99b