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{Originally posted to Rabbi Weinberg’s website, The Foundation Stone}

Epicurus’ visit to Abraham began with their customary banter regarding Tent vs. Garden. Abraham’s Tent was open in four directions to welcome all visitors (Genesis 21:33; TB Sotah 10a). Epicurus described his table, also open to any and all, as The Garden. Guests were greeted with a sign that read, “Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure. The caretaker of that abode, a kindly host, will be ready for you; he will welcome you with bread, and serve you water also in abundance, with these words: ‘have you not been well entertained?’ This garden does not whet your appetite, but quenches it.”

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Both Abraham’s Tent and Epicurus’ Garden were vehicles to introduce and nurture new ideas, although Abraham was terribly bothered by the Garden’s welcome sign. Abraham openly declared that it was God, not he, who was the host, and focused on whetting the appetite for ideas, not quenching that for food and drink. But, Epicurus’ was a great mind, and Abraham loved to engage him in debate. Eliezer, Abraham’s majordomo, relished listening in.

 

Epicurus, as was his habit, rejected Abraham’s offer of “cream and tender calf flavored with mustard (18:8),” and brought his own bowl of plain boiled lentils. They joked about Epicurus not trusting Abraham’s Kashrut certification, but Abraham understood that his guest, despite his reputation as an Epicurean, simply preferred food he had grown himself. The Patriarch considered such preference as dangerous nonsense, perhaps Apikorsut – Heresy, for rejecting the pleasure and promise of human creativity.

 

Epicurus had recently read, “Now Abraham was old, well on in years, and God blessed Abraham with everything (24:1).” So, when Abraham asked, “What is your pleasure today, my honored guest?” Epicurus answered, “I came to discuss old age. You seem to agree with me that it is the pinnacle of life, the best it gets. I have always taught, ‘It is not the young man who should be considered fortunate but the old man who has lived well, because the young man in his prime wanders much by chance, vacillating in his beliefs, while the old man has docked in the harbor, having safeguarded his true happiness’ (Vatican Sayings).”

 

They debated for hours. Abraham insisted that his wanderings were consistently productive, had never vacillated, and did not consider himself docked in the harbor. In fact, “Abraham proceeded and took a wife (25:1),” and had more children! Abraham, no longer a Walker (12:1, 17:1, 22:1), currently a landowner (Chapter 23), wanted his journey to continue. He considered his journey of old age as nurturing that of future generations. Epicurus wanted only, “the pleasing recollection of the past.”

 

Abraham argued for ideas that defined his life. Epicurus debated as his leisure, believing the entire purpose of learning was to attune the senses to the pleasures of life.

 

Eliezer carefully listened to Abraham’s words, and, when, “Abraham said to his servant, the old man of his house (24:2),” was touched that his master considered him Abraham’s type of old man. Eliezer was so moved that he assumed his connection with Abraham made it obvious that only Eliezer’s daughter would be the right match for Isaac. The old servant was shattered and shocked when Abraham insisted that, although only Eliezer could be entrusted with the mission, the servant would choose Isaac’s wife from Abraham’s long ago abandoned (12:1) family. Abraham immediately sensed Eliezer’s pain. The master, who said to the people of Heth, “You consider me a stranger and a resident among you (23:4),” stubbornly refused to allow himself to be defined by others, understood that Eliezer sought his definition in Abraham, and needed to master the journey of old age. Eliezer’s mission to find a wife for Isaac was intended to teach the old servant how to journey.

 

Eliezer searched for a woman who was kind, but Rebecca’s highest quality only became obvious, “the next morning, Eliezer said, ‘Send me on my way to my master.’ But her brother and her mother replied, ‘Let the young woman remain with us ten days or so; then you may go.’ He said to them, ‘Do not detain me, now that God has granted success to my journey. Send me on my way so I may go to my master.’ Then they said, ‘Let’s call the young woman and ask her about it.’ So they called Rebecca and asked her, ‘Will you go with this man?’ ‘I will go – eileikh,’ she said (24:54-58).” Rebecca was a Walker. She was willing to leave her family and go out into the world just as did Abraham so many years earlier. It was only at this point when Eliezer fully appreciated why Rebecca was the perfect match for Isaac, and, “The servant took Rebecca and went – vayeilakh (Verse 61).” Eliezer became a Walker. He mastered the journey of old age. He finally understood Abraham’s definition of his greatest pleasure as that of courageous human creativity. Anything less was, well, Apikorsus!
May You Experience Shabbat As A Creative Journey Into the Future,

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