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ANSWERING TO A HIGHER AUTHORITY

by Rabbi Norman Schloss    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Imagine the following scenario: The two sides decide to meet for a power lunch. The press are all lined up outside. This is to be the meeting of all meetings. The red carpet is rolled out from the doors of the Four Seasons all the way to the sidewalk.

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Imagine the following scenario: The two sides decide to meet for a power lunch. The press are all lined up outside. This is to be the meeting of all meetings. The red carpet is rolled out from the doors of the Four Seasons all the way to the sidewalk. One party arrives in his Mercedes while the other comes in his Beamer. The parties both enter with their entourages. Coats are taken, revealing the latest in Armani suits. Menus are given out and drinks are served. Each side is very careful not to give away their hand too early in the game. The stakes after all are very high indeed. After what seems like hours of inane chatter and mundane pleasantries, it is time to get down to business. Finally, an agreement is reached, press releases are given out, and all continue on to a victory party until the wee hours of the night.

That is probably the way that modern society would have you believe the story of this week’s Torah portion. After all, Abraham is sending his emissary Eliezer to meet with Betuel and Laban to obtain a wife for Isaac. The effects of this mission will effect the rest of human history. Surely, there must be more to such a simple, but history making, story. However, the Torah chooses to tell us the story so that we can learn from it. Not as a fairy tale or love story. The Torah tells us simply that Eliezer goes out to find a wife for Isaac. Two seemingly simple questions jump out from the pages.

First, after the binding of Isaac and Sarah’s death, it seems that the only mission that Abraham has left is to marry off Isaac. Why doesn’t Abraham go by himself? He couldn’t be too old; after all, he re-marries years later and even has more children. Why leave this all-important mission up to Eliezer?

Second, if Eliezer is such an important personage why is he never mentioned by name? Throughout the entire narrative he is referred to as "eved Avraham—Abraham’s servant." Surely, the Torah could have mentioned his name just once.

In describing Eliezer as the servant of Abraham, the Torah is indeed giving him the highest of allocades. In fact, Eliezer saw himself as nothing more than Abraham’s servant. Any another way to describe or name him would be a step down. After all, the entire world knew who Abraham was. To be totally identified as being associated with such a righteous individual was the greatest appellation that Eliezer could have hoped to achieve.

The Torah is teaching us that when serving Hashem (or his emissaries on earth—righteous individuals, Torah scholars, et. al.) one must forget about himself and be totally immersed in the service of Hashem. Eliezer was such a person. Abraham recognized these traits in Eliezer and therefore saw Eliezer as an extension of himself. By sending Eliezer he truly was going himself.

Just how dedicated was Eliezer? The Midrash tells us that Eliezer had a daughter whom he wanted to marry off to Isaac. When he realized the purpose of his mission, all personal issues were shunted aside. He was a true servant of Abraham. Similarly, at the end of the book of Deuteronomy the greatest allocade that the Torah can give Moses is that of G-d’s servant. We see this trait constantly in the Torah. Personages that are measured by their dedication to higher ideals and not to their own self worth or importance.

The Chofetz Chaim, the foremost leader of Torah Jewry at the turn of the 20th century, once had to appear in a Russian courtroom to testify on behalf of a student. The reputation of the Chofetz Chaim preceded him into the courtroom. The prosecutor turned to the judge and asked him if he believed all the stories being told. The judge replied that it made no difference at all as to whether the stories were true or not. The fact that they don’t tell stories like this about you or me is evidence enough, said the judge. The Chofetz Chaim’s reputation as a simple, humble servant of G-d were of more import than the feats or accomplishments of the prosecutor or judge.

Let us all learn as much as we can from Eliezer—the simple servant of Abraham.

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Rabbi Norman Schloss writes from Atlanta.

You are invited to read more Parshat Chayei Sarah articles.

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