Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu SafranThe writer is an educator, author and lecturer. His most recent book is “Mediations at Sixty: One Person, Under God, Indivisible,” published by KTAV Publishing House. He is the author of “Kos Eliyahu – Insights into the Haggadah and Pesach” which has been translated into Hebrew and published by Mosad HaRav Kook, Jerusalem.
Our Sages tell of a Roman matron who once challenged a rabbi, “If your God created the universe in six days, what has he been doing since?”
The rabbi replied that God had been arranging marriages. The matron scoffed. Arranging marriages, she claimed, is a simple task, one anyone could do. The rabbi assured her that arranging marriages properly was as difficult as parting the Red Sea.
Determined to prove him wrong, the matron took a thousand of her slaves, matching this one to that one and that one to this one. The following morning, the slaves came running to her, begging to be released from the marriages she had imposed upon them. Viewing the misery before her, the woman conceded that what the rabbi had taught was true.
More to the point, our tradition teaches that even before a child is conceived, a voice in Heaven announces whom the child will marry, making each true match, a match made in heaven.
So there is a “match made in heaven” for each of us. The challenge is finding it! It is no simple task for any of us to find our life mate. How much more difficult must it have been for Abraham seeking a mate for Yitzchak (Isaac)? Seeking the mate who could perpetuate values, morals and ideals with which to create a Godly nation.
Having finally been privileged to have had a son, Abraham knew he would have to find for him a life partner wholly committed to the ideals Abraham and Sarah had instilled in Yitzchak. Who could he send in search of that perfect, God-chosen match?
In Abraham’s eyes, there could be no Shadchan, matchmaker, as trustworthy as Eliezer. Who but his own loyal servant could find the right girl? Who but Eliezer fully understood the role Yitzchak’s wife would fill as the second of our imahot, matriarchs?
Trusting Eliezer to find the perfect wife for Yitzchak, Abraham instructed him where to go and what to look for. Ready to go out to fulfill his master’s goal, he paused to ask what seemed to be a logical question, “Perhaps (ulai) the woman will not go after me?”
Rashi cites the Midrash which focuses on the spelling of ulai (alef, lamed, yud), which could also be read as eilai – “to me”. Could there be any consequence to the “missing” vav? The Midrash teaches that Eliezer himself had a daughter he sought to marry off, and that he was attempting to draw Avraham’s attention to his own family. “Why,” he was asking, “send me out on a long trek to find a shiduch? Look right at me (e lai) I have a daughter for Yitzchak to marry.”
Imagine! The most prominent member of the community assigning a task to his trustworthy Shadchan only to have the Shadchan suggest his own daughter, overlooking his own deficiencies emanating from the cursed Canaan! What chutzpah! What disloyalty!
Why does the Midrash attribute such disloyalty to this most loyal of all servants, to one who lived in Abraham’s tent and imitated his ways? Just because of the letter combination ulai /elai?
Because this is not the accusation of an innocent, honest shadchan. Quite the opposite. As we learn, Eliezer used phraseology which gave away his true intent.
Often, it is the use of a single word rather than another which betrays our deepest thoughts and intent. A single word can convey an entire message; just one word ….
The Gaon of Vilna explains that there are two words in Hebrew both meaning “perhaps” – ulai and pen. Although both mean “perhaps” there is an important difference in connotation between the two. When one uses the term pen, he is suggesting that he hopes that the possibility spoken about does not take place, as in God’s warning against idolatry – hishamru la’chem pen yifte le’vavchem (Beware, lest your hearts become seduced.) It is clear that God hopes that we not go astray and follow idolatry – pen.
However, when one hopes and anticipates that the option he mentions should occur, he uses the word ulai, as when Avraham beseeched God not to destroy Sodom, “Ulai – perhaps there are fifty righteous people…”
And that is why Chazal were critical of Eliezer’s true intent. He did not use the word pen. Instead, by using the word ulai, we learn that he did not want the woman to follow him. Instead, he hoped that by her not following, the result would be that Avraham would have no other option but to marry Yitzchak to Eliezer’s daughter.
Though the ways of man are wily, the ways of God are true. When God determines a match “made in heaven”, even the trickery of man cannot keep the two apart.