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G-d? Are you There? - Chayei Sarah, 5781

11/11/2020 04:47:20 PM


Rebecca and Eliezer at the well

We mourn the loss of Torah giant and leader of world Jewry Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth. His keen intellect, kind heart and incredible ability to universalize and articulate the truths of Judaism will continue to be a light to us. “Y’hee Zichrono Livracha” -- these words are dedicated to the ascent of his neshama.

In this week’s parsha, Eliezer, Abraham’s aide de camp, is entrusted with a crucial mission: to find a life-partner not only for Abraham and Sarah’s son, Isaac, but to cement the legacy of the nation-to-be by ensuring that the person chosen exemplifies the values needed to move the Covenant forward.

So what does Eliezer do? He takes a lavish ten-camel-load dowry to Haran, the ancestral village, stops next to the well and addresses the G-d of his master and teacher, Abraham. This is my translation:

Adonai, God of my lord Abraham, bring good fortune to me today and deal kindly with my lord Abraham. I am standing here by the spring as the daughters of the people of the city come out to draw water. Let it be that the young woman to whom I say, ‘please lower your pitcher that I may drink’ and who responds, ‘drink, and I will also water your camels,’ prove to be the one intended for my lord Isaac; thereby might I know that You have dealt kindly with my lord.

Is Eliezer asking for G-d to intervene? Is he looking for supernatural aid in his purpose? Or is he doing no more than formulating a sort of spontaneous test of virtue? Knowing that Isaac’s deeply spiritual nature is also introverted, does he realize that Isaac’s intended must be able to take the initiative and own the narrative?

Either way, results are instantaneous:

He had not yet finished speaking when Rebecca came out, her pitcher on her shoulder. She had been born to Bethuel, the son of Nahor, the brother of Abraham. The young woman was very beautiful...and she came down to the spring, filled her pitcher and started back up.
Eliezer makes his request and, just as he had asked G-d, Rebecca not only gives him water but waters the camels until they have drunk their fill: no mean feat for ten thirsty camels! She also gives water to the others in the entourage.

The astonished Eliezer can scarcely believe what has happened. Thanking the maiden with a golden nose ring and bracelets, he asks who she is and if her family can put him up for the night.

And then comes the clincher: She said to him, ‘I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Milcah whom she bore to Nahor.’

She was part of the mishpocho! She was the one! And so it is. Rebecca immediately agrees to marry Isaac and brings back the light that was lost when Sarah died. Rebecca is the architect of Jewish history. G-d’s will is revealed to her and she ensures that the blessing of Abraham passes to the peaceful and spiritual Jacob and not to the bloodthirsty, ambitious Esau.

And so Eliezer’s prayer is answered. But was it a genuine miracle? A divine intervention? Did G-d bring it all about as the text seems to hint? Or did Eliezer know a good thing when he saw it?

In real life, there are no clear lines. Precise determinations of causality are for the laboratory and the computer algorithm, not for the interlocking, chaotic complexities of real life. The word that Eliezer uses for “fortune”- מקרה, mikreh, actually means “happenstance.” G-d’s presence in the story, and in our story, is hidden within the mix. But the fact that heartbeat follows heartbeat, that there is indeed a moral arc in history and an evolution towards consciousness in humanity speaks unmistakably of a guiding presence.

Eliezer’s prayer both is and isn’t a test of G-d. It is an invitation to both himself and to G-d to be partners in creating a momentous moment of destiny. And that invitation is accepted.

Eliezer tells the whole story over again to Rebecca’s family -- and to us -- in great detail. I think that the Torah’s message cannot be clearer: this invitation to G-d and to ourselves to be partners in the destiny that is every day is what it truly means to live a spiritual life as a Jew.

Shabbat Shalom

Wed, July 28 2021 19 Av 5781