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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Chayei Sarah (70)

This week's sedra tells of Sarah's death and burial in Kiryat Arba and the finding of a wife for Isaac. Eliezer Abraham's servant goes to Abraham's family to find a wife for Isaac. As he tells the family how he met Rebecca he says the following:

Genesis 24:39

And I said to my master: 'Perhaps (Hebrew "ulie) the woman will not come back with me?'


Perhaps the woman will not come : Rashi: The word 'Perhaps' (in Hebrew 'ulie') is written without a 'vav'. Eliezer had a daughter and was looking for an excuse so Abraham would say to him and turn to him to have his daughter (marry Isaac). (But) Abraham said to him: "My son is blessed and you are cursed (i.e. from a cursed people); and one who is cursed cannot cleave to one who is blessed!"


Rashi, based on the Midrash, is interpreting the deficient spelling of the Hebrew word 'ulie'. When 'ulie' is written deficient - without a 'vav' and could be read "ailie" meaning "to me". So it is interpreted to mean that Eliezer was subtly hinting that if the woman will not return to Ertez Yisrael then maybe Abraham will consider having Isaac marry Eliezer's daughter ('to mer'). But Abraham turned down this request do to the background differences between the two families.


Many have pointed out a difficulty with this Rashi. What Eliezer is saying in our verse is what he was retelling to Rebecca's family. Actually Eliezer had said this originally when Abraham assigned him the task of finding a wife for his son. See above verse 24:5 There it says "And the servant said to him: Perhaps the woman will not want to come back with me to this land," etc. But in that verse the Hebrew word "ulie" is written full, with the 'vav' - so the reading 'ailie' cannot be read into it there.

A Question: If Eliezer wanted Abraham to offer him his son for his daughter, it would seem most appropriate if the word "ulie" were written without the 'vav' (meaning 'to me') in the verse in the conversation with Abraham; it is less relevant in the verse where the story is just repeated to Rebecca's family.

Can you think of an answer?

Many have suggested ideas.

Your Answer:


An answer suggested by Reb Mendel of Kutzk, (1787-1859) known for his sharp psychological insights, is that when a person is entangled in his own personal desires he cannot see them or be aware of them - if he were aware, his conscious awareness would alert him to the unreasonableness of the thought and he would drop it. Therefore it must remain hidden from his awareness. But once the person is not in the situation he has some distance from it, and then he allows himself to be aware of his inner desire. So when Eliezer was talking directly to Abraham he was in the throes of his desire, it was thus out of his awareness and the verse does not hint at it. But when he spoke later to Rebecca's family he had the distance which allowed him to be aware of his personal involvement. So it was only there that the verse hinted at it.

Another Answer suggested by the Magid of Dubna, (1740-1804). by way of parable, also offers us another insight into how people work.


A man was a salesman for a company that manufactured cloth. One day his boss asked him to sell some cloth to a buyer out of town. The boss had a clever plan to make some easy money. The salesman worked in the following way: He was to go to the customer with small swatch samples of material to let them see what the material looks like and choose what they wanted. Then they would then pay a down payment (50% or more) with the order and the quantity they wanted; it would be delivered later on. One time the boss instructed his salesman to sell a small amount to wealthy potential customer, take a small down payment and deliver the material quickly. The next time he would make a bigger order, take a down payment & again deliver quickly the order. He was to do this several times to build up a reputation as an honest and reliable salesman until his customer finally made a very big order. The salesman was to take the large down payment but this time never the deliver the goods. So the boss would make a lot of money without ever giving the merchandise to the customer.

The salesman did not feel comfortable with this scam that he was to be partner to. He told his boss that he didn't think it would work, the customer wouldn't trust him with so much money, just on faith. But the boss insisted, so the salesman, fearing he would be fired if he refused, went along with the scam. After the salesman made several small sales with the wealthy customer and delivered the goods most responsibly it was time for him to go for the big sale (which would never be delivered). He made the pitch for the big sale then said "But I told my boss that I didn't think you would invest so much money on trust, but he told me to make the sale anyways." The customer hearing this wondered why the salesman told him this, he then became suspicious and told the salesman he would not make such a big order.

The Magid explained the parable: Since Eliezer had his high hopes for his daughter to marry Isaac, his doubts about the suitability of Rebecca for Isaac were then subtly conveyed in the way he spoke to the family. This would make the family wonder if it was a good idea to have their daughter marry Isaac. The Torah expresses Eliezer's desires here (and not earlier) by the spelling of the word 'ulie' making it look like 'alia" (to me.) because it was only in the conversation with Rebecca's family that it would have the desired effect.

Beautiful mashal!

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The five volume set of "What's Bothering Rashi?" is available at all Judaica bookstores.

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