by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Sometimes, the Torah strikes us as repetitive. We are forced to wonder why
the Torah felt it necessary to tell us the same thing twice, and to attempt
to determine what changes and nuances can be learned from the retelling.
Nowhere is this more striking than in our parsha, in the story of Eliezer
going to find a wife for Yitzchak. First of all, the story is told in great
detail. Furthermore, we are given a complete record of Eliezer's
conversation with Besuel and Lavan, in which he repeats the story nearly in
full - who Avraham was (as if we didn't know), how he wanted to find a wife
for his son, how he sent Eliezer, and how Eliezer found Rivka. And finally,
one of the most crucial elements of the tale, the "test" which Eliezer
devises in order to determine which woman G-d has sent for Yitzchak, is
told not twice, but four times: first, when Eliezer prays to G-d that the
sign should come to pass, second, when Rivka emerges and immediately
proceeds to do exactly what he said, third, when Eliezer tells Besuel and
Lavan about his test, and fourth, when he describes for them how Rivka
fulfilled his prayer!
Let the Torah say, "and it came to pass, before he had finished speaking,
that behold, Rivka came out... and she did according to all that found in
the prayer of Eliezer to G-d..." And then, "and I prayed that G-d would
show me a sign... and Rivka came out and did all in accordance with that
sign..." and that's it! We've just saved at least a paragraph and a half -
any editor would obviously have cut the same sections.
But G-d's Torah is hardly obvious. There are layers beneath layers of
meaning, waiting for us to find them. The possible editing is so obvious
that we should know to look for more.
There is an interesting Medrash related to this, which Rashi [Rabbi Shlomo
Yitzchaki] quotes at the point where Eliezer is telling Besuel and Lavan
about the test he made. "Rabbi Acha said, 'the simple conversations of the
servants of the forefathers is more pleasing before the Omnipresent than
the Torah of the children, for the parsha of Eliezer is repeated in the
Torah, whereas many laws which are part of Torah itself are given only as
hints.'" The Rabbis tell us many detailed laws which are part of Torah, and
yet can only be found in the written document by using the various
methodologies for comparing and analyzing the verses.
Concerning the stories of our forefathers, the Kanfei Nesharim elaborates:
"when we concentrate and delve more deeply, we find within them many other
lessons, intentions, and hints towards holy and great things, as we find in
the books of early and later authorities who have written about them." If
these stories are worthy of being told in full - and even repeated numerous
times - it must be that many great lessons may be learned. And indeed, this
is what we find.
I found one brief example offered by the Bais HaLevi, Rabbi Yosef Dov
Soloveitchik of Brisk. Eliezer comes to Besuel and Lavan and tells them
that Avraham had instructed him to go "and take a wife for my son." [24:38]
But if we look earlier, we see that Avraham told him to go "and take a wife
for my son, for Yitzchak." [24:4] Why did Eliezer omit Yitzchak's name?
For an answer, the Bais HaLevi looked at the behavior of many wealthy
people in his day (which, unfortunately, remains true in some cases today).
They would routinely offer large dowries in order to marry off their
daughters to the sons of outstanding scholars. But if someone would offer a
young man who was himself an outstanding student, likely to be a leading
scholar in the next generation, they wouldn't be interested. They didn't
want their daughter to be a Rabbanis (Rebetzin), they wanted her to enjoy
life! So they valued Torah and scholarship, but from a distance. They
wanted the honor of marrying off their daughter to the son of a leading
scholar, but they weren't interested in having their daughter leading a
life of relative deprivation, married to a leading scholar.
When Avraham instructed Eliezer to find a young woman, Avraham said she
should be "for my son," meaning, appropriate as a daughter-in-law for
someone of his nature and Divine service, but still more important, "for
Yitzchak," in accordance with Yitzchak's own great characteristics and
potential. But when Eliezer went to Rivka's family, he recognized
immediately that discussing Yitzchak's character in any detail might blow
the whole match. So instead, he merely discussed the fact that Avraham
was seeking a wife for his son.
Thus we learn to contrast the attitude of Besuel and Lavan, who were
interested in the honor of having their daughter and sister married to the
son of Avraham, with that of Avraham himself, who was more interested in
finding a match which was inherently good. Are we ourselves more interested
in doing that which is right, or doing that which merely makes us look
good? This is just one of the lessons to be learned from one single word of
the "repetitious" stories of our forefathers!