We see the advertisements selling the trustworthiness of financial advisers and institutions. These commercials resonate with us because we know how important it is to have someone we can trust with our money, our assets.
Certainly the same was true in Avraham’s time. It was a lucky man indeed who had someone he could trust to tend to his holdings, his herds, his livelihood. By all accounts Avraham was extremely lucky in that regard. For he had Eliezer.
It is hard to imagine a boss with greater faith in his employee, a master with greater faith in his servant. Avraham praises Eliezer as the “elder of his household.” We are told he “…ruled over everything that belonged to Avraham.”
Eliezer was, for all practical purposes, the CEO of Avraham’s life. He was responsible for all that was Avraham’s – no small responsibility given the extent of Avraham’s estate. The Torah makes clear that there was nothing Avraham would not entrust to Eliezer’s judgment, authority, and control. Avraham’s trust of this man was absolute.
There are many implications to this trust, the most fundamental being that his integrity was beyond reproach.
And the trust was not solely a matter of property and commerce. Eliezer was also entrusted to teach Avraham’s ways to others in the household. He was a melamed of Avraham’s unique and exceptional way of life.
So whom else would Avraham choose to pursue the most sacred task of finding a wife for Yitzchak, the son he loved? As much as finding a wife for Yitzchak, he would be finding the woman who would replace Sarah, who would become the second of the imachot – the second matriarch. Yitzchak’s future wife would be more than his helpmate and the mother of his children; she would become the pillar of the developing Jewish nation.
The task of finding Yitzchak’s bride was not only a profound one, it was also an urgent one. Avraham was not a young man. He was “well on in years.” Let us not mince words: he was old and nearing the end. His life had been one of blessing. The Torah tells us that Avraham was blessed “by Hashem with everything.” The Ramban teaches that this means his life was filled with riches, possessions, honor, longevity, and children.
Avraham lacked only one thing. Assurance. Assurance that all these blessings, all that his life had been and meant, would continue after he was gone. He lacked assurance that God’s long-ago promise to makes his descendants “as numerous as the stars” would be fulfilled. And, given his advanced age, he was anxious to have that assurance, to see his son wed.
Naturally, Eliezer – the man who was who was, for all practical purposes, responsible for all things Avrahamic, the man who was responsible for the brand – was the one to send on the mission.
Of course this vital, sacred task of finding a bride for Yitzchak would also be part of his portfolio of responsibilities.
Before sending him on this task, this most trusted person was told “…place now your hand under my thigh, and I will have you swear by Hashem…that you not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites.”
What’s this? Eliezer, the most trusted man in Avraham’s household, the man to whom he’d entrusted his livelihood, his wealth, his teachings, suddenly has to take an oath? Has something happened to compromise the trust Avraham had for this “elder of his household” that he now has to swear an oath before performing this task for his master?
Avraham’s household wealth had surely grown exponentially under Eliezer’s steady hand; his many servants understood and embraced the Avrahamic way of life; the many blessings of his life had been well tended. But now Eliezer was expected to make an oath?
Did Avraham trust Eliezer or didn’t he?
The text makes clear that yes, Avraham trusted Eliezer. He trusted him with his portfolio, his livestock, his homes, his flocks… with all that he had. In all these things, Eliezer was in charge. No questions ever asked. No doubts ever raised. But what Avraham was now asking of him, to go find a wife for Yitzchak, was not simply another item in the portfolio. It was not simply another investment. It was not business.
The task was in the world but it was not “of the world.”
This was not about Avraham’s holdings but about his life, his legacy, his spiritual responsibility. The task spoke to all that was sacred in his life – his son, a wife for his son, and the children that would come from that marriage. The task spoke to the essential relationship of his life – between him and Hashem. The task spoke to the future avot v’ imachot, the future of the Jewish people. And when it came to that legacy, trust in commerce, trust in teachings, everyday trust, was not sufficient.
Before engaging such a task, Eliezer had to take an oath.
It is easy to imagine there was some “give and take” in all other aspects of Eliezer’s responsibilities. Perhaps he questioned something about a directive from Avraham concerning the livestock, or how best to move the household from here to there. So he and Avraham would engage in some discussion, some negotiation, to settle on the best way forward.
A wise master, a smart business owner, would want and expect nothing less from his servant and CEO. However, in this particular matter there would be no negotiation; no discussion and no questions. In this matter, Eliezer would have no voice that might alter in any way Avraham’s absolute commitment to the future.
And after Avraham had concluded his very strict instructions as to who could be brought back as a bride for Yitzchak, he insisted that Eliezer place his hand under his thigh and swear to him regarding this matter.
No negotiation. No “alternate way.” No interpretation.
It was clear. The future of Am Yisrael was and is non-negotiable.
Avraham’s message to Eliezer was: I trust you with my possessions and my material wealth, with the blessings of this world – but not with my spiritual future or the spiritual future of my progeny.
It is said that Rav Yisrael Salanter was once traveling and stayed overnight at a crowded inn. With so many people, the innkeeper soon ran out of meat. The innkeeper did not know Rav Yisrael. But based on his appearance he deemed him to be a knowledgeable Jew, so he asked him to slaughter a chicken for him in his backyard. Rav Yisrael shook his head and declined, explaining to the innkeeper that he was not a certified shochet and so could not help him.
The following morning, Rav Yisrael approached the innkeeper and proposed that the man invest in a financial scheme that “will surely yield you great rewards.” He suggested the innkeeper give him a large number of rubies for which would reap a great return.
The innkeeper was aghast. “I should give you my money? You are a stranger to me!”
Rav Yisrael chuckled. “Yes, and yet last night, based on my appearance, you assumed you could trust my shechitah but now, when it is money that is the issue, you suddenly need to check me out.”
Rav Yisrael’s lesson was clear – the innkeeper’s priorities were wrong. When it came to spiritual matters, he was trusting. When it came to material matters, he was cautious.
That innkeeper was like so many of us. And so unlike Avraham!
Our priorities are upside down. When it comes to our investments, we check and double-check, we want to know the backgrounds of those who manage our money. But when it comes to the lessons of our souls…not so much. When it comes to our kids’ rebbe, mediocrity is too often sufficient. After all, maybe he’s not the best, but what can we do? We can’t afford more.
What is the matter with us?
Our children graduate high school with fantastic grades but rather than send them to Stern or Touro, we ask, what’s the big deal if they go to some other college? And then, when they find themselves immersed in the depravity of college life, we are at a loss to explain why.
One day our son brings to our expensive home the young woman he wants to marry – and we while she may be nice enough and pretty enough, she is no Rivkah. And we find ourselves at a loss to explain why. Or our daughter brings home a young man who cannot even correctly pronounce “Avraham” and we want to know how such a thing could have happened.
And we never make the connection to our miserliness in our spiritual investments.
It is curious that in the narrative of Avraham sending Eliezer to find a bride for Yitzchak, Eliezer’s name never appears. In this we find another important lesson. We live in a time when self-promotion is everything, when it is always “me, me, me!” The parshah teaches us that in fact there is something much more important.
For Eliezer, it was the mission. It was not about him. It was about accomplishing the sacred task Avraham asked of him. The future of Am Yisrael was and is non-negotiable.
Perhaps it is time to conduct our own lives with that in mind.