I. Saintly Servant
It is no small matter that Eliezer is described in such softy spiritual terms. Following the rule that the physical details given by the Torah have spiritual significance as well, the Sages derive that Eliezer was as much in control of his Evil Inclination as was Abraham, that he knew all of Abraham’s teachings and transmitted them to others ~ even that he came to resemble Abraham. The resemblance can be understood only in spiritual terms. On a scale of values where spiritual attainment is paramount, people are envisioned in terms of wisdom, righteousness, and kindness.
Eliezer’s great spiritual stature can be deduced from his very success in gaining Rebecca’s firm insistence that she wished to accompany him to Canaan. Her only conception of the household where she was asked to spend the rest of her days came from Eliezer. She saw his righteousness, delicacy, tact, consideration, gentility, humility. She saw the servant and concluded that if such was the product of Isaac’s home, then she wanted to be part of it. Eliezer was indeed the teacher of Abraham’s Torah ~ not only from lectures, but more importantly, from living example.
In all sixty-seven verses of the narrative of Eliezer’s mission (Chapte 24), he is not once mentioned by name. He addresses himself (24:34) ‘I am a servant of Abraham’. A more accurate translation would be ‘slave’. Like a loyal slave, he was nothing and deserved nothing except as his master wished. In this sense, too, Eliezer was a slave ~ the total and perfect reflection of Abraham’s personality and will. In this manner he proceeded upon his mission.
Although he formulated his plan to test the moral qualifications of Isaac’s future bride, he relied only on prayer for success. He directed his prayer to the God of Abraham and asked that kindness be shown Abraham. Merit did not enter into his thoughts. The prayer was not for his personal success; it was for the fulfillment of Abraham’s need.
Eliezer’s choice of total reliance upon God’s guidance instead of upon his own considerable wisdom and good judgment, and his prayers for God’s kindness in a matter where people of lesser stature generally rely on common sense and keen insight ~ these demonstrate how great was the concentration of the powers of evil to thwart his effort to continue the development of the nation of Israel. The sapling of Israel was indeed fragile at that point: Abraham and Sarah had not had their son until infertility and old age made miraculous intervention necessary, the Akeidah nearly ended Isaac’s life before he had married; it appeared that in all the world, only Rebecca was a suitable match for him; as events later unfolded, even this marriage was infertile until payer and miracle combined to produce Jacob and Esau. It was not the only time in the history of the world when the forces of evil girded in battle against an event of overriding significance for the achievement of God’s ultimate purpose.
II. Homes of the Patriarchs
Not only is Eliezer’s mission narrated by the Torah in unusually great detail, it is given a second time in Eliezer’s own words as he described his experience to Rebecca’s family.
Eliezer’s behavior, his way of dealing with a complex situation, his response to God’s sign, his treatment of Rebecca, his tactful, carefully shaded dialogue with her family ~ all of these are reflective of the home where he grew and developed.
Eliezer, as Abraham’s devoted servant for many decades, had become a reflection of Abraham. From closely studying chapter 24, we learn not only about his own character and wisdom, but about the Abrahamic home where he became the trusted expositor of his master’s Torah, and great enough an exemplar of goodness to convince Rebecca to commit her life to the building of a home whose nature she could guess only by observing the majestic behavior of its servant.
III. Lessons of Self Interest
Many of the subtle changes which Eliezer inserted in his narrative of the events are explained by the commentary as dictated by his desire to gain approval for the match. Had he related the facts to Bethuel and his family exactly as they occurred, he might have been misunderstood, or they might have been insulted. An extra word here, a deleted phrase there and occasional change in the sequence of events would be needed to avoid a refusal and the failure of his mission. But was Eliezer thereby not practicing deception?
Eliezer, with his implicit faith in God, could rush to bestow valuable gifts upon Rebecca as soon as she demonstrated the selfless generosity he sought in future wife of Isaac. Even before he inquired about her identity, he was confident that she had to be the girl designated by God! But could he tell that to her greedy and idolatrous family? If he had permitted them to doubt his wisdom – according to their code of behavior – he would have been telling the ultimate lie, for they would have refused to accept the absolute truth that God had given them a Rebecca only in order that she would be come Isaac’s wife and a Matriarch of Israel. Eliezer, the teacher of Abraham’s Torah, acted like an accomplished teacher.
So Eliezer carefully considered what he could tell them in order not to mislead them. If they could not understand the saintliness of Abraham and Isaac, there would be no point in praising virtues which they would regard as patronizing or foolish. With this background, we can better understand much of Eliezer’s narrative and gain a deeper appreciation of the stature of one who learned Godliness in the Temple of Abraham and Sarah.
No one is immune from the blinding influence of self-interest, not even Eliezer. In repeating the story to the family, he included an allusion that he had hoped his own daughter could be selected for Isaac’s wife. But the allusion does not appear when Eliezer was speaking directly to Abraham (24:39).
Though Eliezer had a compelling personal reason to wish for the failure of his mission, he rose above all selfish considerations. With loyalty, faith, dedication, and wisdom, he proceeded to prove that Abraham’s trust in him was well placed. Unlike the slave whose honor depends on the rod held over his head, Eliezer went on his mission with uncompromising zeal. In so doing, he completed the transformation of himself from accursed Canaanite to blessed of God. Such is the effect of life in the tent of the Patriarchs. Small wonder the Sages taught that every Jew should set as his constant goal in life the question ~ When will my deeds approach the deeds of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?