Genesis 24:1 – 24:29

24:1Now Abraham was old…” – The Talmud observes: Until Abraham, there was no old age. Whoever saw Abraham thought him to be Isaac, and vice versa. Abraham then prayed for (visible) old age, and his prayer was answered, as it is written: “Now Abraham was old” [i.e. visibly old; for though old age is mentioned prior to this, as for example regarding Abraham and Sarah in 18:11; the elders of Sodom (19:4); Lot (19:31), in those cases only chronological age is meant. Our verse, however, traditionally alludes to the appearance of old age – grey hair – which originated with Abraham.]

The Midrash observes: One may have the dignity of old age without its years, or longevity without dignity. In this case however, it was the dignity of old age matched by the length of days, and the longevity was matched by the dignity of age.

The Mussar is a Jewish path of character development and spiritual growth leading to awareness, wisdom, and moral conduct. The Mussar masters perceive in this expression that Abraham’s life was full and meaningful in every aspect. Every day of his life represented a new challenge and a new mission. Thus, while a great person looks back upon a life full of fruitful days, a wicked one has a full catalog of wasted and abused days. In this sense, our verse describes Abraham’s accumulated years as ‘he came with the days’ ~ he brought along into his old age all of his days. Not one moment of his life was wasted or spent in anything but service to his Creator.

“..with everything.” – The Talmud (Bava Basra 16b-17a) teaches that the Patriarchs; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were given an inkling of the World to Come, and that the Evil Inclination had no dominion over them. This is derived from the fact that expressions with the word ‘everything’ ~ which implies perfection, a totally unflawed blessing ~ are used in the Torah referring to each of the Patriarchs.

Regarding Abraham, this verse ~ ‘with everything’; regarding Isaac, it is written (27:33): ‘and I have partaken from everything’; regarding Jacob (33:11): ‘for God has been gracious to me and I have everything.’

24:2 The commentators emphasize that Eliezer’s loyalty was such that his name is never mentioned throughout this entire narrative, and appears only once in 15:2. This is testimony to the extent that Eliezer’s entire self was devoted to Abraham, his master. The righteous servant sublimated his own identity in order to be known as Abraham’s servant. In fact, the Midrash notes, Eliezer’s features came to resemble Abraham’s and as the Talmud (Yoma 28b) comments, Eliezer was entitled, indicating that he sat on Abraham’s council and had acquired his master’s learning. Yet, as a descendant of the accursed Canaan, he could not intermarry with Abraham.

“..who controlled all that was his..” – Eliezer was the executor of Abraham’s will; one whom Isaac would have to obey in the event of his father’s death. (Ramban)

“..your hand under my thigh.” – Rashi explains that one who takes an oath must place his hand on some sacred object such as a Torah scroll or tefillin (Shevuos 38b). Because circumcision was the first precept given to Abraham and came to him only through much pain, it was therefore particularly precious to him, and Abraham selected the organ as the object upon which to take this oath.

According to Abarbanel, this does not necessarily suggest that Abraham would actually allow his servant to grasp his organ, as such an act would be an indignity. Rather the form of oath was such that the servant symbolically placed his hand under his thigh as if to signify: Remember the covenant of circumcision by which we have both bound ourselves.

24:3 “..I will have you swear..” – Realizing the infirmities of his old age, Abraham feared that he might die before Eliezer’s return. Accordingly, by having the servant undertake a sacred oath, Abraham assured himself of unwavering loyalty to his plan because he knew that Isaac would follow the counsel of Eliezer, who ‘controlled all that was his.’ (verse 2)

Since Abraham knew that Eliezer’s loyalty was complete, why did he find it necessary to administer an oath? Shem MiShuel comments that every person has within him strength and fortitude of which he himself is not aware. In time of crisis, he can draw upon them – if he is determined enough to do so – to conquer seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Abraham knew that Eliezer’s mission could be beset by unpredictable pitfalls and difficulties, so much so that Eliezer dedicated himself to such an extent that he would persevere in the face of the ‘impossible’. Precisely because he took the oath, the obstacles failed to materialize – because they could not have deterred him in any case.

‘..daughters of the Canaanites,..’ – A generic name for the eleven descendants of Canaan who populated the land ~ Zidonite, Hittite, Jebusite, Emorite, Girgashite; Hivvite; Arkite; Sinite; Erodite; Zimrite; Hamite.

The seed of Canaan was specifically cursed (9:25) while Abraham’s seed was blessed (22:18). The two, could therefore not mingle.

24:4 Rashi comments in 22:20 citing the Midrash, after the Akeidah Abraham was concerned that Isaac was still unmarried and he considered marrying him to one of the daughters of Aner, Eshkol and Mamre ‘for they are virtuous women and of what concern to me is their (accursed Canaanite) birth? God therefore caused Abraham to be informed that Isaac’s mate had already been born in his family. For until that time, there had been no births in Abraham’s family, and the righteous daughters of his comrades would have been the logical choice for him. Now that the revelation of the birth was given him, he dispatched his trusted servant to his family.

It is noteworthy that Abraham did not clearly command Eliezer to bring back Rebecca. Perhaps he relied on Divine Providence to guide Eliezer to the preordained spouse. Or he may have felt that if Eliezer were told that there was only a single acceptable girl, he might have felt that the mission was too difficult ~ what if she preferred not to go?

Two considerations are to guide Eliezer in choosing the woman: her character must be such that she can become Abraham’s daughter, even as Isaac is his son; thus she must be worthy, ‘for my son’ but that is not enough: she must be suitable for Isaac’s personality, because two individuals may be of excellent character yet not be suitable for one another. (Hirsch)

24:5 Eliezer does not doubt that he will find the suitable mate who will consent to marry Isaac; he is apprehensive, however, that she might not want to go with him and forsake her family. (Hoffman)

He also asked “What if I no longer find you alive upon my return from my mission. Tell me now whether I should bring your son back there in the event she refuses to accompany me? (Radak)

24:6 Radak continues: For Abraham thus emphasized that Isaac was on no account to leave the precincts of the Land which God had Promised to his descendants. Isaac was the only Patriarch who never left Canaan. God later forbade him to do so, even in days of famine. (26:28)

24:7 “He will send His angel before you,..” – Hashem will send His angel not with you but ‘before’ you. The Midrash specifically stated that a particular angel was meant. This is derived from the possessive “His angel”. It refers to Michael, or to the angel of charge of marriage.

24:8 Abraham was completely confident of God’s Providential assistance in fulfilling his request, but he was, at the same time, prepared for a possible Divine denial of success. This absolute trust exemplified by the righteous is a fundamental principle of faith.

24:11 “..a well of water..” – He chose a well since it is the sort of central place where a stranger seeking information would usually station himself. (Midrash HaGadol)

“..at evening time,..” – The Zohar notes that this timing, too, was part of the Divine Plan. For when Eliezer reached Charan and met Rebecca at evening time it was the time of ‘afternoon prayer’. Thus, the moment when Isaac began the afternoon prayer coincided with the moment when the servant encountered Rebecca.

So, too, it was at the very moment of his afternoon prayer that Rebecca came to Isaac himself. Thus, all was fittingly disposed through the working of the Divine Wisdom.

24:12 Eliezer was apprehensive that the family of the girl might object to her leaving home for a distant marriage. He therefore proposed the test in the following verses in order that Abraham’s relations would recognize God’s hand in the ensuing events. Since he implored God in His Providence to perform certain signs, and God fulfilled them in every detail – they would recognize that everything led to exclaim: The matter stems from Hashem! (which in fact they did – see verse 50), and would consent to allow their daughter to leave home and accompany the man.

“..God of my master Abraham,..” – Eliezer was not so brazen as to pronounce the Divine Name as God of the heaven and God of the earth as did Abraham (verse 3), because he felt himself unworthy. Instead he contented himself to refer to Him as the God of his master who knows the Attributes by which God is called. (Abarbanel)

“..do kindness with my master Abraham.” – For, if You act as I am about to propose, it will be a sure sign to me that You have done so as an act of graciousness for my master Abraham.

24:13 The criteria are established: i.e. ~ away from a home atmosphere, and hence in a better perspective to judge the character of a prospective bride. For here the girl will act freely in accordance with her own innate character, while what a girl does at home may not necessarily reflect her own nature because there she might be under constraint of her relatives’ orders or expectations.

24:14 “..even water your camels,..” – This response would be a barometer of her wisdom and tenderness, showing that she had said to herself: This man is obviously handicapped if he cannot lower a jug to draw himself water from the well. If he cannot give himself a drink than most likely he is unable to water the animals.

Her concern over the thirst of the camels would indicate her kindness to animals.

24:15 “..before he had finished drinking..” – this is similar to Isaiah 65:24 “before they call I will answer, and while they are yet speaking, I will hear”. (Radak)

For so swift was the Divine response to his petition, that while he was still in the midst of his supplication, Providence had already caused Rebecca to leave her house and go to the well. This may be compared to God’s interjected response to Abraham’s prayer for children in 15:4.

24:16 “..no man had known her.” – According to Rashi the phrase “and no man had known her” is not a redundancy parallel to the word, virgin. Rather, following the Midrash, he explains that heathen maidens preserved their virginity, you freely practiced unnatural intimacy. He accordingly distinguishes between the two terms and renders as a virgin – in the literal sense; and no man had known her – unnaturally.

24:18 “Drink, my lord” – She answers “drink” and adds “my lord” although he stands as a slave before her… Thus, step by step, she shows her Abrahamic feelings, and proves herself worthy to succeed Sarah as the family matriarch. (Hirsch)

24:19 Rebecca did not respond by saying ‘I will water your camels as Eliezer had anticipated in formulating his criteria in verse 14. Rather she offered only to draw the water for them. This was further proof of her modesty, since the Sages in Kesubos 61b perceive it to be immodest for a woman to feed male beasts (i.e. from her hand). Therefore, she modestly proposed to draw the water for them and fill the troughs after which they would drink their fill themselves. It is also possible that since there was a trough from which the animals could drink themselves, when Eliezer said water them, he anticipated only that she would draw the water and fill the troughs.

24:20 “..running to the well..” – Rebecca runs eagerly when he performs an act of kindness, as did Abraham when he was providing for his guests (18:7); a further sign of her suitability to join Abraham’s household.

“..she drew for all his camels.” – Ten camels would consume at least 140 gallons of water! The task so eagerly undertaken by Rebecca of drawing such large quantities of water for a stranger’s camels was indeed not a token gesture.

24:21 “..reflecting silently..” – Although he was overawed by her compulsion to do such kindness, he maintained his silence instead of saying, as courtesy would have dictated, ‘Do not go to so much trouble.’ (Sforno)

24:22 “..when the camels had finished drinking..” – This must naturally have taken a considerable amount of time. Since she did not ask for any payment he now knew that she possessed graciousness befitting the wife of his master’s son, and her motives were entirely unselfish.

There is a difference of opinion among the expositors as to whether Eliezer actually presented her with these gifts before inquiring as to her identity, or whether he prepared them in anticipation of the good news he would soon receive, but did not give them until he verified that she was a member of Abraham’s family. The latter opinion is apparently substantiated by Eliezer’s own account.

Ramban interprets that Eliezer’s account in verse 47 reflected the true sequence of events as they actually occurred. First Eliezer established her identity and then gave her the gifts as indicated in verse 47. Verse 22 indicates only that he ‘prepared’ the gifts for her.

Hirsch agrees that the gifts were not presented until afterwards, but he perceives a special purpose in Eliezer’s preparation of the gifts at this point. Rebecca had already demonstrated that her character was sterling, but Eliezer’s next request would be for hospitality for himself and his ten camels. To comply with such a request; not only Rebecca but her whole family would have to be of Abrahamic character. To obtain such a show of generosity, Eliezer felt that it would be wise to display his wealth. Indeed, knowing the mercenary nature of Laban, the dominant figure in the family, Rebecca may not have dared invite Eliezer had she not seen that he would make it worth Laban’s while. In recounting these events in verse 47, however, Eliezer tactfully omitted this point; another example of the subtle delicacy he displayed throughout his mission.

“..two bracelets on her arms..” – The two bracelets were symbolic of the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments which were joined together. (Rashi)

“..ten gold (shekels) was their weight.” – This was symbolic of the Ten Commandments which were inscribed upon the tablets. (Rashi)

24:23..for us to spend the night..” – The us is emphasized: ‘Do you have a place suitable for us – i.e. a place free of idolatry, since we are members of Abraham’s household – to spend the night?’ Therefore, having been so informed, when she replied she simply answered that there was ample space in her home for lodging but she did not say ‘for you’, since, in effect, the house had to be first cleansed of its idolatry, as Rashi notes in verse 31.

24:26 Hirsch explains that bowing without bending the knees, signifies submission of one’s head, one’s mind completely to whomever one bows. Prostrating the entire body, signifies placing oneself entirely at the disposal of the one before whom he prostrates himself. Here, Eliezer first bows his intellect before the management and guidance of the Divine Providence which had been clearly demonstrated to him, and then gives himself up entirely to it.

24:28 “..and told her mother’s household…” – The woman had separate houses where they did their work, and a daughter, of course, confides only in her mother. (Rashi) In the case of Rachel, however, she told her father (29:12) because her mother had died and there was no one else to tell other than her father. (Midrash)

24:29 Laban Or HaChaim cites the Midrash that in the case of righteous people, the word ‘name’ is mentioned before their name as in ‘and his name was Saul’ (I Samuel 9:2). In this case of the wicked, however, the names are given first as in ‘Goliath was his name’ (1Samuel 17:4). If so, why is the wicked Laban introduced as are the righteous, with his name given first? The reason is suggested by the seemingly difficult sequence of the verses, for, in verse 39, which contains the allusion to Laban’s righteousness, he is described as running toward Eliezer even before he heard the full account of the episode from Rebecca (verse 30). When he heard that a stranger had accosted his sister, he hurried to defend her honor (verse 29). Only later when he heard the full story did he learn that Eliezer had acted properly and honorably. Because Laban is introduced to us as a brother acting virtuously in what he thought was defense of his sister, he is described in accord with his deed – righteously.

Laban was the brother of Rebecca and the father of the matriarch’s Rachel and Leah. Although usually portrayed as a schemer – specifically in his later dealings with Jacob – he seems to have had certain admirable characteristics which occasionally emerged among his otherwise sinister traits and which reflected his shining character of his righteous sister and daughters. Rashi, following the Midrashic perspective, views Laban’s every action in the most sinister light as motivated by greed ~ thus anticipating the character of Laban as it reveals itself later in his relations with Jacob. Ramban, however, in interpreting Laban’s character strictly on the basis of how he emerges from the simple sense of the Biblical text in the narrative, views him here in more sympathetic terms as being basically straightforward and honorable.

Rashi also accounts for the unusual order of these two verses and notes that the next verse explains the reason for his running: he saw the jewelry and judged Eliezer to be wealthy; as well as the fact that he overheard Rebecca’s account; for were it Laban’s intention to be hospitable rather than greedy, there would be no need for the Torah to mention his ‘seeing the jewelry’; the fact that he ’heard the account’ would have sufficed.

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