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Imperfect Perfection

Friday, 10 November, 2017 - 5:15 am

It’s considered the longest story in the Torah. Well, at least the most drawn out.

Avraham dispatches his servant, Eliezer, to the land of Charan to find a suitable match for his son Yitzchak.  Eliezer prays to G-d for success, asking for a sign.  In a remarkable scene Rivka shows up immediately and fulfills the sign.

What’s remarkable about this story is that the Torah repeats it – in full detail – again, when Eliezer tells the story himself to Rivka’s family. The Torah dedicates 67 verses to this episode! Contrast that with the two verses the Torah dedicates to the mitzvah of mezuzah, for example. There are hundreds of details to know about affixing a mezuzah – but just two verses. Or, the story of Avraham discovering G-d, which merits zero verses in the Torah! The Binding of Yitzchak doesn’t even get this much mention.

What is so compelling about this story that the Torah highlights it with such fanfare?

There are many explanations to this phenomenon, dating back to the Talmud.

I’d like to focus, however, on one detail.

Avraham asks Eliezer to swear that he will go to Avraham’s birthplace to find a wife for his son.  In response, Eliezer wonders, “Perhaps the woman will not wish to go after me to this land.” Evidently, he is not fully on board, sowing doubt into the conversation.

Avraham guarantees that G-d “will send His angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there.  And if the woman will not wish to go after you, you will be absolved of this, my oath.”

Eliezer dutifully swears and embarks on the mission. During his journey he prays to G-d for success. He is confident that, in his master’s merit, he will succeed.  When speaking with Rivka’s family he introduces himself simply as, “the servant of Avraham.”

He is clearly up to the task. So, what was his initial doubt and hesitation?

The Talmud explains that Eliezer had a daughter… And, he really would have preferred that Yitzchak marry his own daughter. So, he was gently trying to suggest a ‘better’ alternative.

However, Avraham told him that was not an option. Unless his mission failed… Then he would be absolved from the oath.

It turns out that Eliezer had all the reason in the world to allow the mission to founder. Yet, he was completely faithful to the mission. He recognized his own weakness and prayed that he would overcome it and succeed.  He realized that he was partial and that his only solution was to throw himself into the mandate completely.

***

We too, at times, face the same challenge as Eliezer.  We have a mission, a Divine assignment.  Yet, we prefer our own ‘daughter,’ our own selves.  We have lots of baggage and see ourselves as imperfect vehicles to actualize G-d’s objectives.  It might be resolving a family dispute, setting aside time for Torah study, or lighting Shabbat candles before sunset.  Whatever the particulars are, we may see ourselves as insufficiently capable.

So, how do we prevail?

The Torah expends scores of verses telling us about the frail Eliezer and his extraordinary success. Though he was not the perfect messenger (in fact he even voiced his discomfort) he was the perfect servant. It was his dedication and selflessness that allowed him to succeed.  He put aside his own agenda and acted with selfless devotion.

G-d knows that we have baggage. He knows that we may have ulterior motives. Yet, He still chooses to invest in us as His vehicles. Because the only ingredient we truly need is devotion and selflessness.

And the capacity for that, He has given us in spades.

This is a lesson worthy of long contemplation. 67 verses worth of contemplation.

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