INSIGHT

5767 - #07

A RETURN HOME

Bereishit 24:4 informs us of Avraham Avinu’s request of Eliezer to travel to Avraham’s homeland and place of birth in search of a bride for Yitzchak Avinu. The language is most interesting in that it immediately reminds us of the famous words of Bereishit 12:1 where Avraham is commanded lech lecha m’artzecha u’mimolade’techa, “go…from your homeland and your place of birth...”1 Here Avraham commands Eliezer, el artzi v’el molade’ti teileich, “to my homeland and my place of birth, go.” Notwithstanding the famous words of Lech lecha, Avraham’s connection to his homeland and birthplace would not seem to have been totally severed with his departure to Eretz Yisrael. In searching for a wife for his son, he calls upon Eliezer to, effectively, return home. It is only there that Eliezer will be able to find a suitable mate for Yitzchak Avinu. It would seem to be that only by going back would the Jewish People be able to go forward. It would seem to be that only through the observance of this second commandment of lech, this commandment of Avraham to his servant, that the destiny of the Jewish nation could be reached.

             There is much in the simple narrative of this story of the finding of a wife for Yitzchak that raises our curiosity. The declaration that Avraham does not wish for a wife for Yitzchak to be from amongst the Canaanites seems to make perfect sense; the Canaanites are particularly noted for their corrupt ways. The straightforward reading of the story would seem to be that Avraham is simply telling Eliezer that he should find a good wife, from a fine family, for Yitzchak. Yet, is it true that there was no good family in the immediate vicinity? Does Malki-Tzedek -- who Rashi, Bereishit 14:18 states is Shem ben Noach – not live in the area?2 And what about the family from which Eliezer eventually chose a mate for Yitzchak? Betuel and Lavan are not exactly shining examples of the kind of in-laws we wish are children to have.3 The fact is that Avraham does declare that he does not wish a wife for Yitzchak from the Canaanites amongst whom he dwells -- but his prime directive to Eliezer is simply to find a wife from that area, from the land from which he came. Avraham’s directive is not similar to Yitzchak’s directive to Yaakov Avinu to go and chose a wife from Rivka’s family, specifically from the daughters of Lavan.4 Avraham’s directive is much more general. Return to the homeland. Eliezer is to return to the place from where Avraham came in order to choose a wife for Yitzchak (even as Yitzchak is not to personally travel to this place.) The question is simple: what is the importance of this return home?

             Whenever we consider the issue of marriage a dilemma is encountered. In one way, marriage is personal, specific and individualistic. The search is for the one. Rabbi Uziel Milevsky, Ner Uziel, Chayei Sarah, A Wife for Yitzchak asks: why did Avraham wait until Yitzchak was forty before initiating this search for a wife for Yitzchak? He answers that Avraham knew, through prophecy, that Yitzchak’s soulmate was not yet born. Why, thus, even bother to look? Vilna Gaon, Even Shelaima, in fact, writes that one of the functions of the prophets was to inform individuals of their soulmates. In finding a spouse, we are not really going through a process of choice; we are discovering a link which already exists. General broad rules for searching for a spouse become irrelevant within this perspective. How can one say not to choose from amongst the Canaanites for it may be that the one is amongst the Canaanites?

 

             Yet, Avraham presents general principles in describing how he wishes this search for a wife for Yitzchak to be conducted. This is the other side of marriage. We must perceive the process of finding a spouse within the context of choice and thus must consider what we wish in this process.5 It is within this context that Avraham can declare that he wishes the choice to avoid the Canaanites and the environment of corruption in which members of this nation grew up. Perhaps Avraham could have simply told Eliezer to go and bring back Rivka, Yitzchak’s soulmate. Yet the Torah presents this episode within this context of choice, within a realm of the objective determination of a spouse rather than the subjective. The challenge is to determine this objective principle and, most importantly, its value.

             As stated, the simplest way of understanding Avraham’s directive is to state that he wished the search for a spouse to be conducted within a population that was more righteous rather than amongst a population that was extremely corrupt. Yet, that assertion, as shown above, is easily challenged. It is also not what Avraham said. His reference to the Canaanites includes simply the statement that he dwells amongst them, not a reference to their corruption.6 Avraham simply wishes a wife, for Yitzchak, from Avraham’s homeland, from Avraham’s birthplace, not from the people amongst whom he presently dwells.7 Within this objective realm of how to choose a spouse, Avraham is stating that he wishes to avoid the population that immediately surrounds him and wishes an environment of a past homeland.

             As we go through life, we always face the question of how to relate to our beginnings. The more our life takes us on a path away from these beginnings, the more powerful and intriguing this question becomes. Avraham is told to leave his birthplace and travel to a new land for it is in this new land that he will become the father of nations and specifically, one special nation. The implication is that he is to break away from his past to build a different present and future. Yet, at this important juncture in the development of this dream, he declares that there must be a return to the past. Yitzchak cannot choose a wife from amongst those who share the moment. He must choose a wife from the world of the beginning. As much as we may move away from our starting point, we must still recognize that this starting point is still our starting point. It is our beginning; it will always play a significant role in who we are, in the definition of our essence. 8 It is this connection to his roots that Avraham wishes to give Yitzchak. He does not wish for Yitzchak to return to this source of his roots for, thereby, the past may adversely affect the movement into the future. Yitzchak must be cemented in the present and the future. Yet, the present and the future cannot be divorced from the past and Yitzchak must still forge the connection. Life’s journey is significant because it is a journey and the start and finish of this journey must always be in sight. To draw a wife from the surrounding peoples will truncate this vision of the journey as the role, strength and place of the past will be lost. The Imahot, the mothers of the Jewish People, must also go through the same journey as Avraham did in order to maintain this vision of the journey in the genesis of the nation. Avraham’s call to Eliezer was to choose a wife for Yitzchak from Avraham’s roots. Thereby Avraham is informing us that, even as we grow beyond our starting point, we must always recognize the existence of our roots.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail

Notes

(1)  While people usually quote Rambam's Eighth Principle of Faith(as found in his Commentary to the Mishna, Sanhedrin, Perek Chelek, Introduction) in regard to the necessary belief in Sinai as the source of the Written Torah, Rambam clearly includes the Oral Torah in this principle, both in regard to its origin and its accuracy, at least in regard to matters clearly enunciated at Sinai.
(2)  The exact nature of
Torah She'b'al Peh is a matter of discussion within the commentators. See, further, Rabbi Benjamin Hecht, Forum: Torah She'b'al Peh, Nishma Journal VI.
(3)  Upon reflection, many of the modern issues between Orthodoxy and non-Orthodoxy, in fact, do parallel the historical disagreements regarding the relationship of the text and the tradition. I thankMichael Schweitzer for this insight.
(4)  A classic example of this is
Devarim 12:21. See, further,Rashi, Ramban and the comments of Rabbi J.H. Hertz.
(5)  See, for example, Rabbi Benjamin Hecht, The Cloud of Revelation, Nishma Introspection 5763-1.
. (6)  Even within the Rabbinic tradition, see the comments of Rabbi Yosef Bechor Shor on this verse.
(7)  Rashi, in fact, does do so, to some extent. See,  also and perhaps more extensively,
Rabbi S. R. Hirsch..Further on this general point, see Kuzari 3:41 which, in the context of a general discussion and critique of Karaism, explains how the Rabbinic understanding of the count of 7 weeks leading up toShavuot fits into the text. Bottom line, Orthodoxy also insists that Torah She'b'al Peh or the meaning of the text connect with Torah She'b'ktav. The question is how.


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2006 NISHMA