Home > Divrei Torah > Parashat Hayyei Sarah

Parashat Hayyei Sarah

November 9, 2012

By Rabbi Bob Freedman

I am fascinated by the servant of Abraham whom Abraham charges with the task of finding a wife for his son Isaac. It seems likely that the servant is Eliezer of Damascus, whom at one point Abraham wanted to make his heir. Here he is only called eved (servant), but that makes him special, one of only two people whom the Torah specifically so designates. (The other is Moses!) I suggest that by so doing, the Torah is suggesting that we think of Abraham’s servant as a paradigm, a role model for us.

The servant had earned Abraham’s complete trust. Abraham reciprocated by conferring on him the status of shaliah, his agent who, as Talmudic law stipulates, is considered as the sender himself. Abraham entrusted the servant with ten camel loads of his wealth. Moreover, by making the servant swear on his (Abraham’s) genitals, Abraham symbolically designated him to be the carrier of his seed.

So the servant dedicated his faculties to being Abraham: legs that took him to Haran, arms that handed rings to Rebecca, eyes that saw Rebecca’s outer and inner beauty, and a mind that made and executed plans as his master would. The servant even took on Abraham’s ability to speak to God and petitioned God for a sign. We have a witness, Rebecca, to indicate that the servant allowed his inner Abraham to shine on his face. Apparently she recognized the radiant integrity and kindness of Abraham when she saw it, for, with no argument, she agreed to go with him to a land she did not know.

We Jews are urged to consider ourselves as servants of God. What if we really were to take Abraham’s servant as our model of a quintessential servant? Would we not consider ourselves as God’s agent, to be like the master? What we understood as God-like, we would do. This is clearly spelled out in Parashat Kedoshim: “Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” We would be God’s partners in works of creation and kindness, and we would not slavishly do only what the master instructs. Like Abraham’s servant, who asked God for a sign, but on his own devised appropriate content for the sign in order that the best choice would be revealed, we would be creative, using our own intellect to implement the divine intent. We might even achieve the level of allowing our divinity to shine out for all to see.

It would also be well for us to remember that being a perfect servant of a human or divine master will sometimes be painful, demanding sacrifice. Abraham’s servant marked Rebecca’s beauty and her suitability as a possible wife. Did he refrain from desiring her for himself? Imagine with your midrashic vision the third act of an opera in which, on the long trek to Isaac’s dwelling, Rebecca and the servant dare to confess to each other that they have been in love since they first met at the well. By the merciless light of the desert stars they sing of their longing in a haunting duet. Inevitably, the sad ending comes. Rebecca, seeing Isaac, alights from her camel. Heartbroken yet faithful to his master, the servant stands by watching as Isaac takes Rebecca into his mother’s tent.



Rabbi Bob Freedman was ordained at AJR in 2000. He presently serves as cantor of Society Hill Synagogue in Philadelphia.