סדר חיי שרה

ויהיו חיי שרה מאה שנה ועשרים שנה ושבע שנים

And Sarah was a hundred and twenty-seven years old

Genesis 23:1

Rashi comments that the Scripture writes “שנה” (years) after “hundred” and “twenty” and “seven” to teach us that when Sarah was twenty years old, her beauty was like that of a seven-year old. Many have wondered about this comment inasmuch as women are more beautiful when they are twenty than when they are seven. But our master explains this according to what some philosophers have written, which is that when a woman’s beauty is so extraordinary that people are astonished by it, her beauty does not arouse the desire of an observer, his senses and feelings being overwhelmed so that he feels no desire.

Such was the overwhelming beauty of Sarah. (See Megilah 22 and the Maharshah there). Although Abraham did not fully perceive his wife’s beauty, he was concerned by it, saying (Genesis 12:11-12): “Behold now, I know that you are a woman beautiful to behold. and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife;’ then they will kill me, but will let you live.” (הנה נא ידעתי כי אשָה יפת מראה את והיה כי יראו אתך המצרים ואמרו אשׁתו זאת והרגו אתי ואתך יחיו) But the Scripture tells us that when Abraham came to Egypt, “the Egyptians saw that she was very beautiful” (ויראו הַמצרים את האשה כי יפה הוא מאד) which means that, contrary to Abraham’s opinion that she was beautiful, but not extraordinarily so, her beauty, indeed, did surpass that of other women. The Egyptians, therefore, did not respond, as Abraham had feared, to her at all, but merely remarked on her exceptional beauty. The Scripture makes a further point: “And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh” (ויראו אתה שרי פרעה ויהללו אתה אֶל פרעה) meaning that even the princes of Pharaoh did not, owing to her exceptional beauty, desire her for themselves. They, instead, praised her to Pharaoh, meaning, as Rashi explains, that they praised her among themselves as one fit for a king. We know also that they considered the king to be a deity, not an ordinary human, Pharaoh having said, “the river is mine and I have made it.” Thus, the princes said that a woman like Sarah is fit only for a divine king, not for an ordinary human being.

The Torah therefore explains that the Sarah’s beauty at the age of twenty was like that of a seven-year old. Even as a seven-year old arouses no physical desire, similarly Sarah, when she was twenty, owing to her exceptionally great beauty, did not arouse physical desire.

‘ויקח העבד עשרה גמלים מגמלי אדניו וילך וכל טוב אדניו בידו ויקם ויּלך אל ארם נהרים וגו

Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, taking all the goodly things of his master in his hand, and he arose and went to Mesopatamia

Genesis 24:10

It may be asked why was “וילך” (he went) written twice. It seems to our master that this may be explained according to the aggadic interpretation of the verse that Eliezer’s journey was miraculously shortened. Eliezer must have used one of the holy names of God to perform this miracle. Moreover, just as the law prohibits one from deciding a question in the presence of his master, neither may one use any of the holy names in the presence of his master. The holy Shalah of blessed memory wrote that “טוב” with a “חולם” denotes the revealed Torah while “טוב” with a “שורוק” denotes the esoteric Torah. This is why it is written: “Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels, and departed; taking all the goods of his master in his hand, and he arose and went to Mesopatamia.” He went as would have any traveler even though “all the goodly things” (כל טוב) of Abraham were in his hand, meaning that his master had turned over to him the secrets of the Torah. It would have been within Eliezer’s power to mention one of the names of God while he was still in Abraham’s presence. But he did not do so. Instead, he left Abraham just as he always did. Only after traveling some distance away from Abraham did Eliezer arise, which means that he rose up to his full height and uttered the name of God, whereupon he immediately arrived in Mesopatamia. And see below on the verse ואבא היום אל העין.

ואמר אל אדני אלי לא תלך האשה אחרי

And I said to my master, Perhaps the woman will not follow me

Genesis 24:39

Rashi comments that the written text is “אֻלַי” (to me) instead of “אוּלַי” (perhaps) from which we learn that Eliezer had a daughter whom he wished Isaac to marry. Avraham told Eliezer, “my son is blessed, and you are cursed, and one who is blessed may not marry one who is cursed.” This interpretation is problematic. First, shouldn’t the inference that Eliezer had a daughter whom he wanted Isaac to marry have been drawn from the passage recounting Eliezer’s actual conversation with Abraham? Why should the inference have been drawn from the conversation in the house of Laban? Second, how do we know how Abraham responded to Eliezer? Third, why, when the Scripture recounts his conversation with Abraham, does Eliezer say, “the woman will not want to go” (לא תאבה האשָה ללכת) but in his conversation with Laban, Eliezer says “the woman will not go” (לא תלך האִשָה)?

In the book אפיקי יהודה, an answer is proposed to the first question. The author suggests that Eliezer’s motives were hinted at when Eliezer said “perhaps (אוּלַי) the woman will not want to go.” The word “אוּלַי” always indicates “הלואי” (may it be that) as our Sages explained in connection with the verse (Job 1:5): “It may be that my sons have sinned” (אולי חטאו בני). For whenever one does not wish the contingent event to occur the word “lest” (פן) is used as in: “lest your heart be deceived” (פן יפתה לבבכם) (Deuteronomy 11:16); “and lest you lift up your eyes” (פן תשא עיניך) (Deuteronomy 4:19) and the like. This observation is correct, but it only reinforces the question why Rashi did not base his comment about Eliezer on the earlier verse “perhaps she will not want to go” (אולי לא תאבה האשה ללכת) instead of this verse in which he recounted his conversation with Abraham to Laban. So what does the word “אולי”/”אלי” used in the discussion with Laban teach us?

The book אוהל יעקב takes a different approach and maintains that until Eliezer said in the house of Lavan “perhaps she will not come after me” his desire that Yitzhak should marry his daughter was never revealed. But in saying this to Laban and Bethuel, Eliezer disclosed his true wish, for what did Eliezer accomplish by recounting his earlier conversation with Abraham to the family of Rebecca? Was Eliezer not denigrating Isaac by even suggesting that there was any reason to fear that Rebecca might not want to follow him back to Canaan to marry Isaac? And Eliezer chose his words carefully. But this interpretation leads into an even greater conundrum, because in that case Abraham could not have known of Eliezer’s wish that Isaac should marry his own daughter. The Scripture informs us of Eliezer’s intention only by recounting to us that he told Laban “perhaps (אוּלַי) she will not follow me.” If so, how is it possible that Abraham spoke to him concerning a posibility (a marriage between Isaac and Eliezer’s daughter) which Abraham never knew or heard of? One might say that Eliezer must have had a prior conversation with Abraham about the possibility of Isaac marrying his daughter, which was when Abraham told Eliezer that one who is blessed may not marry one who is cursed. But in that case, why did Eliezer mention the subject to the family of Rebecca when he already knew that, even if Rebecca did not come back with him to marry Isaac, Abraham would not have allowed Eliezer’s daughter to marry Isaac, but would, as Rashi says, have taken one of the daughters of Aner, Eshkol or Mamre as a bride for Isaac?

And it appears to our master that these two ideas may be joined together and explained as follows. When Eliezer said to Avraham “perhaps (אוּלַי) she will not want to follow me,” (by which he meant: “may it be that she will not want to follow me”), instead of saying “lest (פֶן) she will not want to follow me,” Abraham understood Eliezer’s intention perfectly. If Abraham did not reply at all, so that Eliezer could still have harbored a hope that his daughter might marry Isaac, then Eliezer, had he wished to undermine the match between Isaac and Rebecca, would have changed his wording and said “lest (פֶן) she not want to follow me” instead of “perhaps (אוּלַי) she will not want to follow me.” For the word “perhaps” (אוּלַי) would reveal his intention to Rebecca’s family as well. It is therefore certain that Abraham had already told Eliezer that one who is blessed may not marry one who is cursed, so that Eliezer’s hopes had already been disappointed. When speaking to Laban and Bethuel, Eliezer was thus attempting to heighten their desire for the match by informing them that he, too, had very much hoped that his daughter would marry Isaac, but had been rebuffed by Abraham.

The Scripture therefore writes “אולי/אלי” to indicate to us that Eliezer told the family of Rebecca in detail of his conversation with Abraham. Eliezer therefore had to tell them that Abraham did not want Isaac to marry his daughter, because Abraham considered himself and Isaac to be blessed. It was thus that Eliezer achieved his goal in gaining the consent of Rebecca’s family to her marriage to Isaac. We can now also understand why Rashi based his comment on the second “אוּלַי” not the first one. For it is the second “אוּלַי” from which the reply of Abraham to Eliezer can be inferred. The first “אוּלַי” indicated only that Eliezer had a daughter of his own whom he wished Isaac to marry. This also explains well why Eliezer said to Abraham, “perhaps the woman may not be willing to follow me” which suggests that there was reason to fear that she would not want to follow him. But in the house of Laban he changed his wording and said, “perhaps the woman will not follow me,” which means: “may it be that the woman will not follow me for some reason or other,” but not that there was any reason why Rebecca would not want to go with him.

ואבא היוֹם אל העין

And I came this day to the well

Genesis 24:42

Rashi comments: “Today I started on my journey and today I arrived here.” Hence we may infer that the earth leapt for him (i.e., his journey was miraculously shortened). R. Aha said: “The ordinary conversation of the servants of the Patriarchs was more pleasing to God than the Torah (halakhic discourse) of their children, inasmuch as the chapter of Eliezer (the account of his journey) is repeated in the Torah (i.e., first in narrative form and then as part of Eliezer’s conversation with the family of Rebecca) while many important principles of the Law are only inferred from nuances in the text.”

Many have wondered why the remark of R. Aha was mentioned inasmuch as it seems unrelated to the comment that precedes it. Nor is it clear how Rashi inferred from the word “היום” (today) that Eliezer left Canaan and arrived in Haran in one day.

And our master was able to provide a single answer to both questions. In the initial narrative, the Scripture told us how Eliezer went (Genesis 24:10): “He arose and he went” (ויקם וילך). It then immediately tells us (24:11) “and he made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water” (ויברך הגמלים מחוץ לעיר אל באר המים), without telling us anything about his journey. But in his conversation with Rebecca’s family, we find the opposite: Eliezer says nothing about his departure and mentions only his arrival, thereby indicating that departure and arrival were simultaneous, arrival following immediately upon departure. How very appropriate therefore was the comment of the Sages that the departure and the arrival coincided because the mountains skipped like rams and the valleys like sheep.

However, one could still maintain that the Scripture was just being terse, mentioning the departure in the original narrative and the arrival in the conversation at the house of Laban, without intending to indicate that a miraculous shortening of the journey had occurred. That is why Rashi records the comment of R. Aha that the conversation of the servants of the Patriarchs was more pleasing to God than the halakhic discourses of their children. For this comment proves that the Scripture was not being terse, but recounted in full the events of Eliezer’s journey twice. How then is it possible that the only events that Scripture would not have mentioned twice were his departure and his arrival? It must be, therefore, that the Scripture intended to teach us that Eliezer’s journey was miraculously shortened.

ותקם רבקה ונערתיה ותרכבנה על הגמלים וַתלכנה אחרי האישׁ ויקח העבד את רבקה וילך

And Rebecca and her maids arose, and rode upon the camels and followed the man; and the servant took Rebecca, and went his way

Genesis 24:61

One may ask why it says: “and the servant took Rebecca” after the Scripture had already said that she and her servants followed the man. See the Ramban and the Ibn Ezra who tried to answer this question.

But to our Master it appears that the difficulty can be solved by the inference from this verse drawn by the Talmud (Berahot 61a) that one should follow a lion rather than follow a woman. It is evident, therefore, that Eliezer did not want to follow Rebecca, but, instead, went ahead of her. However, he went ahead of her only until the agents of her family formally transferred custody of Rebecca to the agent of her husband (i.e., to Eliezer), for until that moment Rebecca was not yet considered to be Eliezer’s mistress, and he was not yet considered to be her servant. (See Ketubot 48b: “if her father’s agents delivered her to her husband’s agents, she passes under the authority of her husband.”) But once the agents of the family left her, Rebecca became Eliezer’s mistress, and he her servant. After that transfer of custody, it would have been a breach of protocol for Eliezer to travel ahead of Rebecca. Eliezer therefore took Rebecca from among her retinue and placed her at his side. And if you look carefully you will see that before she was conveyed into Eliezer’s custody, the Scripture refers to him as “the man” (איש) but afterwards it calls him “the servant” (עבד). That is why it is written “they followed the man” until her father’s agents returned to Haran, when Eliezer was still considered a man not her servant. But after the agents of her family returned home, it says “the servant took Rebecca.” Once Eliezer became Rebecca’s servant, he took her to travel at his side.

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