Parashat Chayei Sarah

In this parashat Chayei Sarah, we read of the death and burial of Sarah, the betrothal and marriage of Isaac and Rebecca, and the death of Abraham. It concludes with a list of the descendants of Ishmael.

A central figure in Chayei Sarah is Abraham’s Damascan servant, Eliezer, who is sent to Haran to find a wife for Abraham’s beloved son, Isaac. So central is the personality of Eliezer and his activities to the portion, that his story is repeated two and a half times, and a full 67 verses are devoted to describing his mission of finding a wife for Isaac.

The fact that the story of Eliezer takes up two or three pages of the Torah, while major laws of Judaism are recorded in merely two or three words, underscores the major role that Eliezer plays in the history of the Jewish people and the critical importance of his service to Abraham.

The questions remain, who is Eliezer and why is he so important, that his words are recorded and repeated for posterity for all the generations? To add to the intrigue, the name Eliezer appears only once in the entire narrative, and does not appear even once in the lengthy account of his mission.

The name, Eliezer, is recorded only in Genesis 15:2, when God appears to Abraham and promises him that He will be Abraham’s shield and that Abraham’s reward will be very great. Abraham answers ,”  My Lord, God, what can You give me, seeing that I go childless, and the steward of my house is the Damascan Eliezer?”

Throughout the entire narration of the mission, Eliezer is referred to by other appellations, but never “Eliezer.” In Genesis 24:2, he is called by Abrahamֹ , the oldest servant of his house, who ruled over all that he [Abraham] had. In Genesis 24:5,9,10 and 17, Eliezer is referred to as  –“Ha’eh’vehd,” the servant.

The commentators are perplexed by the absence of Eliezer’s name in the entire narrative of the mission of finding a bride for Isaac. Some suggest that Eliezer realized that it was beyond the capacity of a Damascan slave to find an appropriate mate for the exalted soul of Isaac, who is known after the Akeida as –the “pure sacrifice.” Eliezer knew that only his total dependence upon G-d and the merits of Abraham would help him succeed in his mission. He therefore introduced himself to Rebecca’s family by saying, Genesis 24:34, “I am a servant of Abraham,” and consistently refers to himself as a lowly servant.

An additional fascinating element to the story, developed by the rabbis of the Midrash, is based on the fact (Genesis 15:3), that Abraham is concerned that Eliezer will be his sole heir. This concern is cited by the rabbis of the Midrash as the source for attributing to Eliezer the desire that the mission to Haran not succeed. When Eliezer inappropriately suggests to both Abraham and to Rebecca’s family that perhaps the woman would not return to Canaan with him, the rabbis suggest that Eliezer had a daughter whom he hoped would marry Isaac, and hence, he was really trying to sabotage the match with Rebecca.

According to many, it is the exemplar of Eliezer’s total reliance on God and Divine Providence, as well as his commitment and loyalty to Abraham that earns Eliezer a full chapter in the Bible in which his every word is analyzed and studied for the secrets of wisdom and faith they contain.