HOW IN-LAWS RELATE
When Eliezer, the servant of Abraham, enters the house of Betuel, the father of Rebeccah, Betuel sets him at the table and offers him food to eat. But Eliezer insists that before he eats, he must tell the story of how Abraham sent him to find a wife for Isaac.
When Eliezer, the servant of Abraham, enters the house of Betuel, the father of Rebeccah, Betuel sets him at the table and offers him food to eat. But Eliezer insists that before he eats, he must tell the story of how Abraham sent him to find a wife for Isaac. Eliezer gives a detailed account of the send-off, and the fact that he includes so much detail draws attention to the numerous aspects that he changes or omits entirely. For one, when Abraham sent Eliezer, he instructed him "to find a wife for my son, for Isaac" (Genesis 24:4). However, when Eliezer recounts this instruction he quotes Abraham as having said only "to find a wife for my son," with no mention of Isaac by name. Indeed, throughout the recounting, Isaac is referred to only as the son of Abraham.
The Beis HaLevi, one of the most brilliant Talmudists of the 19th century, notes this conspicuous omission. He explains that Eliezer purposely mentioned only Abraham in order to de-emphasize Isaac. Despite the fact that Rebeccah was to be marrying Isaac, Eliezer chose to highlight that, as a product of marriage, her father Betuel would gain a closer association with Abraham. The idea of gaining entry into the family of Abraham, a highly respected and much acclaimed personality in the Middle East at that time, sounded appealing to Betuel. However, the idea of having his daughter become the wife of Isaac would have seemed a bit threatening to Betuel. Albeit, Abraham had achieved great wealth and renown in the world, but that success and security had come at great sacrifice, both emotional and physical. How long would it last for Abraham? And, what would guarantee that Abraham's son would be so fortunate? Like his father, Isaac was one whose principles truly guided his life - no matter what the circumstance. Betuel would have felt uneasy had he pictured his daughter compromising her comfort for those principles, so Eliezer avoided the issue and focused Betuel's attention on Abraham. Eliezer gauged that it was safer to not let Betuel fixate for too long about the possibility of these future compromises that his daughter might have to make.
Betuel obviously was of similar belief to the ideals of Abraham, otherwise, he would not have rejoiced at the prospect of associating so closely with him. However, he was unable to accept the implications of this association. Betuel was not ready to have his daughter compromise her comfort level in order to uphold these ideals. In a manner of speaking, having Rebeccah marry Isaac was too close for comfort.
Eliezer made a judgment call and decided to omit any mention of Isaac directly because he saw that Betuel could not handle it. Eliezer was aware that one's belief is only as meaningful as the extent to which he is willing to change his life to uphold it. Betuel possessed an intellectual belief in Hashem, the G-d of Abraham; however, his belief did not translate into action. As such, he demonstrated, that to him, maintaining a lifestyle of comfort and security was a greater ideal than the principles that came along with belief in Hashem.
Our actions and the decisions we make with our lives speak volumes about what we believe. If people would read the story of our lives, what themes would they discern? The meeting of Eliezer and Betuel calls us to edit and proofread our own experiences. It should inspire us to turn our lives into clearly printed, eloquent compositions of what we believe in.
Yosef Rodbell, a native Atlantan, is a member of the Kollel at the Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore.
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