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Abraham said to his servant, his household-manager… (24:2).
The main section of the Parasha relates the planning and carrying out of the mission that Abraham entrusted to his servant - namely to travel to Abraham's homeland and find a suitable spouse for his son, Isaac.
Though Rabbinic tradition has it that the servant was Eliezer of Damascus (c.f. 15:2), there is no such mention in this text. Indeed, although the servant appears to have acted with the highest of motives, and in Abraham's best interests throughout, the narrative does not refer to him by name even once. Just 'the servant… the servant'. Why?
One possible approach lies in considering the emissary himself. He was a servant - 'eved' - in Hebrew. That word may be also rendered as 'slave' - as in 'avidim hayinu le-faro be mitzrayim' - 'we were Pharaoh's slaves in Egypt' (Deut 6:21).
Although the Torah does accommodate slavery, the Talmud strongly implies that it is a concession to the contemporary working of societies rather than an ideal situation. Indeed Rashi (to Ex. 21:6) shows the Torah's disapproval of an Israelite voluntarily letting himself into a situation when he gets that status of 'eved'. For the Torah declares that Israelites are 'My (G-d's) servants' (Lev. 25:42) - exclusively. They are not 'the servants of servants' - i.e. people, who are required to serve others.
In addition, Rashi (in his comment to 24:39) implies that his servant was a Canaanite servant. [He describes that servant as being from the family of the cursed - probably referring to Noah's curse to Canaan in 9:25].
Such a slave loses his legal status, and indeed, his individuality. He cannot own property - the Talmud rules that anything that he acquires is legally his master's. His time is not his own. He is not even responsible for his own actions - indeed in several places the Talmud implies caution to treat slaves reasonably, for fear that he might cause extensive damage to someone else's property, making his master (not himself) liable to pay a fortune in damages.
Thus although the servant showed commendable faith in G-d and carried out his mission scrupulously, he was not acting on his own accord. It was Abraham's will, and Abraham's set of ideals - not his own.
The Torah records acts in the names of individuals who did have free choice. Good acts and bad acts. Thus Balaam does not go nameless even though he sought to curse Israel. Neither does Jezebel. Nor Haman. Yet the Torah does not name any Israelite whilst he or she was a slave in Egypt…
So Abraham's servant going nameless teaches us the following lesson. Once individuality is taken away, the whole unique aspect of the person is given up. Whatever is done is not a true product of the person's personality. Even a servant's act of faith contains someone else's act of faith. As far as the servant is concerned, the act is diluted - i.e. is not quite fitting material to teach eternal lessons. The eternal lessons in this narrative come from the personalities named - Abraham, Laban, Bethuel, Rebecca. Not from the nameless, whose entire actions were only expressions of someone else's values and tasks.
That is a lesson for educator and students today. People lead and influence others by being individuals themselves. They themselves relate what they have learnt to their whole being - they process material and ideals to harmonize with the individuality of their personalities. Only then their actions become real, authentic, expressions… And educators, for their part, should seek to encourage the students to accommodate their learning to their individualities, and not become a mere 'nameless' clone of the teacher. The world has heard the teacher. Now it is time for it to hear someone else.
As Moses declared to the Israelites just before his death: 'See, today I am putting before you life, and good; death and evil… and you choose life' Thus the Torah declares real observance as coming from the act of having the freedom to actually 'choose' life…
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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