Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Quintessential Avodah

Rav Lipman Podolsky z"l

"Rabi Acha said, The speech of the servants of the Patriarchs is more precious to Hashem than the Torah of their descendants. For the portion of Eliezer is repeated twice in the Torah, yet many principles of Torah were given only through allusion (Rashi24:42)."

Eliezer was the quintessential servant. Not only did he fulfill his mission to find Yitzchak a shidduch, he did so with enthusiasm and alacrity. So eager was he to please his master, he actually davened for success. Every stage of the story reveals Eliezer's unwavering excitement as he quickly approached the realization of his goal. When Rivka appears and immediately proceeds to water Eliezer's camels (no simple feat for a girl of three!), fulfilling Eliezer's condition to the letter, the Torah testifies, "And the man [Eliezer] was astonished at her, reflecting silently to know whether Hashem had made his journey successful or not (24:21)."

Eliezer had such faith in Avraham's merit that he gave Rivka the jewelry intended for Yitzchak's betrothed even before verifying her identity (Rashi 24:23). When the success of his endeavor became apparent he, "bowed low and prostrated himself to Hashem. He said, 'Blessed is Hashem, G-d of my master Avraham, who has not withheld His kindness and truth from my master... (24:26)."

Similarly, when Rivka's brother and father consented to the match, his joy knew no bounds. "And it was, when Avraham's servant heard their words, he prostrated himself to the ground unto Hashem (24:52)." Indeed, from Eliezer's reaction we learn an important lesson. "From here we derive that one must give thanks for good tidings (Rashi ibid.)." Eliezer's zealous impatience to fulfill his mission is manifest when Rivka's brother and mother suggested postponing the wedding. His reply: "Do not delay me now that Hashem had made my journey successful. Send me, and I will go to my master (24:55)." Indeed, it seems that Avraham's joy was Eliezer's joy.

There is only one minor problem. Eliezer himself had a daughter whom he was extremely interested in marrying off to Yitzchak. Eliezer hinted as much when he suggested to Avraham, "...perhaps the woman will not follow me (24:39 in Rashi; see also Breishis Rabba 59:9)."

It seems that Eliezer was not just seeking a husband for his daughter. Eliezer suffered the ignominious fate of having been born a descendant of Canaan, a person whose progeny were cursed forever (Breishis 9:25). This Divine curse eternally distanced them from Hashem. The only way for Eliezer to remove this blemish was to have his daughter become the wife of someone blessed, i.e. Yitzchak. Her "conversion" would spare the rest of Eliezer's offspring the humiliating fate bequeathed to them by their forebear.

Avraham, however, was not interested in the shidduch. His son, the upcoming forefather of Klal Yisrael, could not bond with a descendant of the accursed Canaan.

Despite this disappointment, Eliezer did not despair. Maybe, just maybe, things would work out. Perhaps destiny would yet provide Eliezer with an opportunity to redeem his offspring from the curse of his ancestor.

The background established, how is it that Eliezer went to such extremes to insure success in his mission to find a shidduch for Yitzchak? First he davened, something above and beyond his moral obligation. He later twice prostrated himself, giving great thanks to Hashem. He truly expressed happiness for his master's good fortune. And when Lavan attempted to postpone the wedding, Eliezer refused to take no for an answer.

But why? After all, he finally had a reasonable excuse. They wouldn't let her go. Perhaps now, for lack of options, Avraham would consent to let Yitzchak marry his daughter! Indeed, Eliezer, by carrying out his mission, is virtually throwing out any chance for a future!

The explanation rests in Eliezer's unswerving commitment to a teaching of our Sages: "Nullify your will before His will, so that He will nullify the will of others before your will (Avos 2:4)."

This is the ultimate in Avodas Hashem (Divine Service). To nullify one's will before that of Hashem requires true subjugation. The servant completely negates his own will, becoming one with his Master. For him there is no other urge other than to fulfill Hashem's desire, even when it contradicts his own personal interests, his own seeming benefit. This is a true servant.

This was the spiritual status of Eliezer, the servant of Avraham. Truth to tell, Eliezer desperately wanted Yitzchak to marry his daughter. Nonetheless, he placed his master's will before his very own, and carried out his mission above and beyond the call of duty, so much so that he literally felt joy at the success of his endeavor; Avraham's joy became his very own.

The source of Eliezer's loyalty stemmed from his unswerving devotion to Hashem. Avraham was the spiritual leader of his generation; Yitzchak would soon fill his father's shoes. They were Hashem's trusted messengers, appointed to disseminate His ideas among men. Their success was G-d's success.

Consequently, although Eliezer desired Yitzchak for his daughter, he placed Hashem's will first. Whatever the Merciful One decrees is nothing but the best (Brachos 60b). Although he may have desired differently, "Many are the thoughts in a man's heart, yet it is the counsel of Hashem that will prevail (Mishlei 19:21)." Should his daughter not merit to marry Yitzchak, should she be destined to remain accursed, that is Hashem's decision; as such it is none other than the best that can be.

Just as by the Akeidas Yitzchak, where Avraham energized himself with zeal and verve to fulfill the Divine command -- despite the intrinsic illogic, and notwithstanding Avraham's innate anathema to harm a fellow human, let alone his only, precious son -- so was it concerning Eliezer the servant of Avraham, the servant of Hashem. Only one fortified with the most lofty degree of faith would be capable of so utterly nullifying his own will -- his entire future -- for the sake of his master.

One final question: It would seem unfair that after all this self-sacrifice Eliezer ended up unrewarded. After all, his descendants remained accursed! Where is the justice?

To this the Medrash responds: "Rabi Dosa said, Canaan -- this is Eliezer. And owing to the fact that he served that Tzaddik(Avraham) faithfully, he was transferred from the category of the Accursed to the category of the Blessed (Breishis Rabba60:7)." In other words, Eliezer did receive the reward coming to him, that which he desired all along. The decree against his family was rescinded, and he finally joined the close circle of Hashem's loyal, trusted tzaddikim. True, his daughter never married Yitzchak; but his real dream came true.

All this solely because he overcame his natural tendency to selfishness. By nullifying his will for that of Hashem, Eliezer delivered himself and his descendants forever. Ironically, had Eliezer actually followed his human nature and tried to thwart the successful outcome of his mission, not only would he not have succeeded, he would never have earned the title of Blessed. It was precisely the opposite, humanly illogical behavior that achieved for him his life-goal. Such is the reward of a true servant of Hashem.

"The speech of the servants of the Patriarchs is more precious to Hashem than the Torah of their descendants..."