A Divinely Directed Shidduch

Was Eliezer's request from G-d improper?

Rabbanit Shira Smiles

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Summary by Channie Koplowitz Stein

In the Torah portion of Chayei Sarah we bear witness to the ultimate search for a shidduch (match) and all the communications necessary until a proper conclusion is reached. Eliezer, Avraham (the Patriach Abraham) Avinu’s trusted servant, is sent on a mission to find the right girl for Yitzchak (Isaac).

Eliezer takes his mission to heart. Upon arriving in Haran, Avraham’s family’s hometown, he stops at the well at the outskirts of town and asks Hashem, “God of my master Avraham, hakrei na lefoneye hayom – may it so chance before me this day - …” that the maiden that I ask for water will offer me drink and for my camels as well, and she will be the right girl for Yitzchak, Avraham’s son.

Was Eliezer’s request proper, was there an improper element of sinful divination, or perhaps did his request contain elements of both. Our commentators discuss these possibilities and are divided.

If we examine the wording of Eliezer’s request, we will note three separate components, notes the Sifsei Chaim. First, what does Eliezer mean by “may it so chance”? It is on this point that the Talmud finds fault with Eliezer and considers the request improper. Next, why should this occur “before me”? Who else could it refer to? Finally, why does Eliezer request that this happen today, without delay?

Let us start with the middle question first. The Ohr Doniel, Rabbi Ochin, explains that Eliezer knew that Hashem would indeed find the proper shidduch for Yitzchak. What he was requesting was that he merit being the agent through which that shidduch would be realized. Just as we all have challenges in which we hope to succeed, Eliezer prayed that he be successful in this challenge. Rather than being a challenge, Eliezer considered this an opportunity to do chessed (good deeds), just as we should face the inconvenient tzedakah (charity) emissary at our door or our neighbor who needs a ride when we have little time as an opportunity to do chessed rather than as a nuisance.

This is the point Rabbi Salomon makes in With Hearts Full of Faith. It is the request for opportunities to do mitzvoth that Rabbi Salomon understands to be the meaning of “write us in the Book of Merits” for which we pray in the Avinu Malkeinu prayer.

We now move on to discuss whether Eliezer’s request constituted a sign, as in divination, or a legitimate prayer. Oznaim LaTorah observes that although the terminology may sound like divination, like looking for a sign, Eliezer’s words are actually a prayer The Netziv in Haamek Davar adds that Eliezer deliberately wanted this to sound like he was looking for a sign because the people in this area were into divination. They could accept divination as proof and say that this is God’s doing while they would not as readily accept prayer.

Either way, the question still remains, how would this be an appropriate test for the future matriarch asks Rabbi Moshe Egbi in Chochmat Hamatzpun? Eliezer wanted to be certain that the girl would have a good heart, would be a girl who sought out opportunities for chessed as did Avraham Avinu and the members of his household. Therefore, if she could continue to bring water to this able bodied man while he stood lazily by, and even brought water to his camels, her essence was giving and doing chessed, a trait  that would ensure a peaceful household.

Nevertheless, the future matriarch of the Jewish people also needed to be a person of deep faith. What is the connection between being a baal chessed and having emunah (faith)? The compendium of Letitcha Elyon concludes that someone who continuously wants to do kind acts must have a humble soul.

Rabbi Zev Leff in Shiurei Binah expands on this connection. Citing Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, hy”d, Rabbi Leff writes that every human being understands intellectually that there is a Creator of this complex, orderly world. What blinds one to this truth is not his mind but his heart, the desires that blind him toward objectivity. As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes, “Emunah is not the knowledge that there is a God, but rather the acknowledgment.” Avraham, the greatest believer who brought monotheism to the world was also the leading model of chessed and kind deeds.

Rabbi Leff brings a very insightful analogy from the Baalei Mussar. There is one major difference, they say, between a mirror and a window, and that is a layer of silver, kesef, coating the glass of one. Kesef is derived from the root word for desire. It is our personal desires that distort our perception and prevent us from looking outward and seeing both the world and its truth, and the needs of others. What Eliezer perceived in Rivka was the proper outlook as opposed to an inlook. Such selflessness was the basis of true emunah as well as of true chessed.

We are now left with the question of Eliezer’s urgency. Why did he insist that Hashem have this happen today? Could he not have found the right girl by going through normal channels, inquiring about Avraham’s family, checking out the girls in the family, and picking the most appropriate one? Indeed, had Eliezer had the proper faith, he could have overcome his personal agenda and relied on Hashem’s help in finding Yitzchak’s proper spouse, writes the Sifsei Chaim.

And what was his personal agenda? Eliezer had a daughter of his own, writes the Ohr Chodosh, that he had hoped would marry Yitzchak. Yet he prayed to Hashem that he would be able to carry out Avraham’s mission faithfully and with a full heart, and not let his personal wishes intrude and impede his mission. The faster he could achieve his goal, the less likely his mission would be to be compromised. So, Hashem, help me do this quickly, as You have helped me arrive at this place quickly by shortening the travel time.

This point is one of the major lessons of Eliezer’s speech, writes Rabbi Yaakov Yisroel Byefoce in Yalkut Lekach Tov. We are all here on a mission from Hashem, Hakodosh Boruch Hu, and we all have personal desires that can prevent us from working on our character and on our mission. With the proper desire to do His will rather than succumb to our own, we will be able to succeed without supernatural intervention.

This brings us to the key word in our discussion, hakrei – may it [happen by] chance. Herein lies a fundamental tenet of Yiddishkeit, a belief that would seem counterintuitive. Rabbi Pincus discusses this idea in some depth in Tiferes Shimshon. We would think that if something happens naturally, by chance, God is not involved. Therefore we tend to ask for Divine Providence to help us. Rabbi Pincus suggests that the exact opposite is true, that Hashem is most directly involved when things happen seemingly by chance. When He institutes Divine Providence, Hashem is designating angels and emissaries to carry out His wishes instead of being directly involved, and giving instructions to all. This is a circuitous route that not only can cause delays, but can also alert the Satan to try to foil the plan. Eliezer asks Hashem to make this happen today, under Hashem’s direct supervision, for He is the Master of Nature.

Rav Hirsch emphasizes this point. A mikreh in Judaism is not blind chance, but a calling to an individual from a higher plane, as Ruth was “called” by chance to the field of Boaz that would set the foundation for the Davidic Dynasty. As Rabbi Chaim Friedlander, the Sifsei Chaim writes, life is not a random series of events. Hashem has orchestrated all the events in our lives to help us grow and become the righteous people we are meant to become.

However, that choice is still our own. Eliezer had his directive from his master Avraham, and we each have our directive from our Master above. Let us pray that we can see Hashem’s personal hand in everything that happens to us each day so that we can nurture our relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu and try to fulfill our mission and reach the potential He has implanted in us.

See video at http://www.naaleh.com/viewclass/3143/single/