The mysterious instructions to Eliezer

The importance of not taking decisions lightly.

Rabbi Avraham Gordimer

Judaism Herd of camels
Herd of camels
Rabbi Avraham Gordimer

"And Avraham said unto his servant… “I adjure you in the Name of the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of Canaan, among whom I dwell. Rather, to my land and birthplace shall you go, and you shall take (from there) a wife for my son Yitzchak.” (Bereshit 24:2-4)  

This charge to Eliezer to find a wife for Yitzchak (Isaac) is perplexing, for one would expect the charge to appear in the reverse order, with Avraham (Abraham)  first instructing Eliezer to find Yitzchak a wife, and then specifying that the wife must not be from the daughters of Canaan. In other words, Eliezer should have been told “you shall take (from there) a wife for my son Yitzchak”, with the subsequent condition that “you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of Canaan”.

Why did Avraham specify this condition first – that Yitzchak may not wed a daughter of Canaan - and then instruct Eliezer to go to Charan to find Yitzchak a wife? (1) “You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of Canaan, among whom I dwell. (2) Rather, to my land and birthplace shall you go, and you shall take (from there) a wife for my son Yitzchak.” Seemingly, statements (1) and (2) should be in reverse order.

The reason Avraham instructed Eliezer in this unusual order is that the need for Yitzchak’s wife to not be from the daughters of Canaan was not merely a preference or even a condition; rather, it was of the essence. The notion of Yitzchak’s wife, who would be the next of the Imahot, the Matriarchs, being a Canaanite was a non-starter. By definition, the Avot and Imahot could not be of Canaanite stock. This was the message being conveyed by Avraham.  For Yitzchak to take a wife from the daughters of Canaan meant the end of the life mission of Avraham and Yitzchak; it was a foundational issue that cut to the very identity and purpose of Avraham and Yitzchak.

This concept – that Yitzchak was not merely taking a wife, but that his marriage represented the selection and investiture of the next of the Imahot – is borne out by the jewelry that Eliezer gave to Rivka upon identifying her as the correct wife for Yitzchak. Chazal tell us that the jewelry symbolized the shekels that the Children of Israel would in the future donate toward construction of the Mishkan, and that it also symbolized the Luchot (Tablets) and the Aseret Ha-Dibrot (Ten Commandments). The giving of this jewelry to Rivka indicated that she would bear the Mesorah, the Torah tradition, as the next of the Imahot, whose descendants would stand before Hashem at Sinai and would build the Mishkan. The jewelry was not a mere adornment; it signified Rivka’s new station in life and her eternal spiritual destiny.

Chazal tell us that “Maaseh Avot siman la’banim” – the happenings and narratives of the Avot (and Imahot) are a sign for their progeny, and this is why the stories in Sefer Bereshit are so important to learn and understand. With this in mind, what is the lesson that we can take from the story of Rivka’s selection and betrothal?

Throughout life, we make many choices; some choices are minor in nature, while other choices are of great import. Choices that impact our conduct as servants of Hashem, as Torah Jews, must be made with a heightened sensitivity and with extreme care, examining the further and deeper implications.

Whether the matter at hand is choosing a shidduch, or choosing a yeshiva for oneself or one’s child, or choosing a rebbe/rav, or choosing a community in which to live, or choosing where to daven, or choosing an occupation, we must realize that the decision we make will quite likely impact us profoundly and can very well define us and our families forever.

Some people treat such important decisions shortsightedly and narrowly, not appreciating the often long-term and seismic consequences. As the descendants of the Avot and Imahot, we must turn to the examples of Avraham and Rivka and take to heart that major decisions must be evaluated for their extremely far-reaching spiritual ramifications, looking past the here and now and the natural factors, and considering the matter well beyond the way that would be done by an average person. As the progeny of the Avot and Imahot, we must be highly sensitized to all life decisions and realize that much more than practicalities is involved, for these decisions can shape and define us, our families and descendants permanently.

May we merit to always learn from and emulate the ways of the Avot and Imahot, and may Hashem guide us in our decision-making and enable us to make our choices that elevate our lives and direct our paths toward Him.