Parshas Chayei Sara #1
“And Avraham said to his servant, the elder of his household, who controlled all he owned… I bind you with an oath by Hashem, the G-d of the Heavens and the G-d of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites… Instead, go to my land and my birthplace, and take a wife for my son Yitzchak… Beware that you do not take my son back there” (Bereishis 24:2-4, 6).
With these words, Avraham appointed Eliezer to a mission with major ramifications for countless generations to come. Yitzchak’s wife, selected by Eliezer, would be the next mother of the Jewish people.
Avraham clearly had a great deal of confidence in Eliezer, as evident from his position in Avraham’s household. In contemporary terms, we would say that Eliezer, Avraham’s personal aide, had complete control of his vast fortune, including access to his bank accounts, credit cards, online passwords, and car keys.
If Avraham had so much faith in Eliezer’s integrity in financial affairs, why was he so reserved about entrusting him to negotiate Yitzchak’s shidduch? Here, Eliezer had to swear that he would follow Avraham’s instructions, and was even issued a rather sternly worded warning. The contrast between Eliezer as the trusted steward on the one hand, and Avraham’s openly expressed suspicions when it came to this assignment on the other, is surprising. Did Avraham trust Eliezer, or not?
The Be’er Mayim Chaim (Chayei Sarah, p. 129) explains that Avraham had complete confidence in Eliezer concerning material matters: he “controlled all [Avraham] owned.”
Spiritual matters, including the selection of Yitzchak’s future wife, were another story. Here, Avraham was unwilling to trust the judgment of his financial manager – this was too important! Eliezer was given detailed orders, and bound by oath to obey them. Avraham’s priorities were clear: money and materialism could be delegated, but spirituality, including the spiritual future of his descendants, was personally overseen. The Be’er Mayim Chaim points out that unfortunately, our own value systems tend to be reversed: we are trusting and easygoing about ruchniyus, but vigilant about gashmiyus.
An incident in the life of Rav Yisrael Salanter (1810-1883), founder of the Mussar movement, illustrates this phenomenon. On one occasion, Rav Yisrael was staying at a village inn. The Jewish innkeeper noticed his visitor’s distinguished rabbinical appearance, and saw an opportunity to save himself some time and trouble.
He asked Rav Yisrael, “Are you by any chance a shochet (ritual slaughterer)? I have an animal that I need slaughtered, and if you could do it for me, it would save me a trip to town.”
Rav Yisrael was many things, but he was not a shochet, and he could not oblige his host.
A little later, Rav Yisrael approached the innkeeper with a request. “Would you be willing to lend me a ruble?” he asked.
The innkeeper’s response was very blunt. “I don’t know you,” he said. “Why should I trust you with a ruble?”
Rav Yisrael told him, “Did you hear what you just said? When money was at stake, you wouldn’t trust me with a single ruble. Slaughtering an animal involves many halachos, but for that, you had no problem trusting a stranger!” (HaMeoros HaGedolim 110, p. 36)
How different are many of us from the innkeeper? We spend weeks investigating new products before making a purchase, from a pair of shoes to a refrigerator. We test drive cars and have new homes professionally appraised. We are cautious, educated consumers.
Unfortunately, spiritual concerns often do not receive as much attention. For example, how long do we deliberate before indulging in forbidden gossip? Do we always check produce prone to infestation for bugs, or do we tell ourselves that it’s probably fine? Do we make sure that the material we read or the topics we discuss on Shabbos are appropriate for this holy day?
Question for Discussion:
Avraham Avinu should be our model in mitzvos: they are top priority. Instead, we often tend to be more casual than careful about ruchniyus. Which one mitzvah would you like to fulfill better, and why?Click Here To Respond