The articles in this column are transcriptions and adaptations of shiurim by Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l.
Upon discovering that Esau intended to kill Jacob for acquiring the birthright blessings, Rebecca commanded Jacob to flee to the house of her brother, Laban, in Charan. She used the word brach, to flee with urgency, when warning Jacob of Esau’s intentions. She ordered him to escape and save himself, omitting any mention of her ulterior motive of finding him a wife. Rebecca employed a pretext regarding the unsuitability of the local Hittite women, in order to impress upon Isaac the necessity of commanding Jacob to seek his wife among Laban’s daughters. Isaac subsequently granted Jacob Abraham’s Blessing, Birkat Avraham, and prayed that it should remain in his family. When Isaac commanded Jacob to leave, he used the word lech, simply to go. Rather than warn Jacob about the dangers of a confrontation with Esau, he chose to frame his request solely in terms of Jacob departing to find a proper spouse. Why did Rebecca command Jacob to flee from Esau without mentioning the need to find a wife, instead delegating that task to Isaac?
Both mother and father are equally obligated to save and protect their child. The child is required to listen to either parent who directs him to proactively protect himself. However, the obligation to marry off the son falls solely on the father (Kidushin 29a). Therefore it is Isaac, not Rebecca, who could command Jacob to pursue the second reason for going to the house of Laban, to find a wife.
Why was it necessary, in the span of a few verses, for the Torah to repeat Isaac’s command that Jacob should travel to Padan Aram in order to find a wife? Abraham and Sarah jointly converted thousands of men and women to believe in the One G-d. Matriarchs, like the patriarchs, were granted prophetic experiences. Our tradition, as well as the mission to perpetuate it, was given to both the patriarchs and the matriarchs as a unit. The Torah says that Abraham gave everything he had, kol asher lo, to Isaac before he passed away. It is interesting to note that Abraham gave this gift to Isaac only after he married Rebecca. Kol asher lo refers to the mesorah, Birkat Avraham, as well as the mission to carry on Abraham’s tradition. In order for Isaac to assume his role as the next patriarch, he required a partner to help him pass on the tradition. Abraham waited until he was convinced that Rebecca was Isaac’s soul mate, to transfer the tradition to Isaac. Though Isaac intended to confer the firstborn blessings of Vayiten lecha upon Esau, he never intended to give Esau Birkat Avraham. That was a separate blessing, responsible for transmitting Abraham’s tradition, which was reserved for the next link in the patriarchal chain. Isaac waited until he was convinced that Jacob was prepared to assume his role as the third leg of the patriarchal triad, before transferring it to him. That indication came when Jacob committed to follow Isaac’s model and seek his wife within Abraham’s family.
When traveling to Charan in search of a wife for Isaac, Eliezer acted as an emissary for both Abraham and Isaac. It is clearly evident from the Torah’s narrative that Eliezer was Abraham’s proxy. He also acted on behalf of Isaac, demonstrated by his direct report to Isaac, rather than Abraham, on the success of his mission. Eliezer’s report back to his client, Isaac, is similar to the messenger who dispatched the sacrificial goat on the Day of Atonement, reporting back to the High Priest that he completed his mission, so then w hy does the narrative focus on Eliezer acting as Abraham’s proxy rather than Isaac’s? Apparently Eliezer’s mission on behalf of Abraham was more crucial. Abraham directed Eliezer not only to find a wife for Isaac, but also to ensure that she would enable Isaac to inherit his tradition. Such a wife must fit the mold of kindness embodied by Abraham and Sarah. It is noteworthy that Eliezer tested Rebecca with acts of kindness to verify that she was worthy to assume that role.