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Posted on כ׳ במרחשון ה׳תשע״א (October 28, 2010) | in Chayei Sarah | by

Parashat Hayye Sarah is, at large, a chronicle of Avraham Avinu’s last living actions.  Beginning with the death of Sarah Imeinu and ending with the death of Avraham himself (with an aside tracking the generations of Yishmael and his death), we are invited to see how the forefather of the Jewish people chose to spend his last.

A cursory read of the parasha yields 3 major elements.  Avraham

  • buys a plot (chapter 23),
  • arranges for his son to marry (chapter 24), and
  • wills all his possessions to Yitzhak and sends his other sons away (chapter 25).

However, if we rephrase the description of these events, we find that Avraham

  • begins buying Eretz Yisrael (a burial plot is the most meaningful, symbolic, and lasting land purchase possible),
  • ensures his progeny, and
  • guarantees Yitzhak’s status as successor.

Yet we find that all three things have already been promised to Avraham by God in previous parshiyot!  Does this render Avraham’s last efforts futile?  Not at all.  Avraham perceived the following foundational principle: even when Hashem promises you something, you are yet part of the fulfillment of that promise.  It was not enough for Avraham to sit idly by while his destiny unfolded; he played an active role in the consummation of his divine decree.  This goes a leap beyond hishtadlut:1  Avraham is an instrument in God’s promise to him!

But that is only one of the elemental truths Avraham teaches us through his actions.  Of the many curious events in our parashah, one that escapes overlooking is the conversation between Avraham and Eliezer2.  Avraham, ever laconic, has an unusually long conversation with Eliezer, that goes something like this:

(Note: this is far from an exact translation.  Really far.)

Avraham: Swear you will not get my son a wife from Canaan, but get one from my birthplace.
Eliezer: What if she doesn’t want to come back, should I take Yitzhak over there?
Avraham: No way.  The God who promised me the Land will send an angel to guide you.  If she doesn’t want to come, you are cleared of your oath, but whatever you do, do not take Yitzhak back.
Eliezer: I swear

(Bereishit 24:1-9)

Avraham has two major criteria in his judgement: a) he wants Yitzhak to marry someone from back home and b) he does not want Yitzhak to ever leave the Land of Canaan.3  Eliezer is trying to flesh out which of the two criteria is more essential.  Avraham will not have it.  If Eliezer can’t do his job, says Avraham, then leave my son alone.  But note!    He says “you are absolved of your oath,” and, “whatever you do, do not take him there.”  He does not say, “make sure he stays Israel.”  He makes no decision as to which criteria is more essential.  He merely instructs Eliezer to remove himself from the divine process by advising <em>in</em>action.4

Avraham is positive that humans can play a role in fulfilling the divine promise.  But in the event that  they cannot, or choose not, Avraham also has perfect faith that the decree will be fulfilled either way, so he tells Eliezer to forget about it.

And this is the second axiom.  Avraham knows that the same God Who has made him every promise will also fulfill each and every one.  And if Avraham cannot play his role the way he imagined it, it is of no consequence: the promise will be fulfilled.

We must have faith that in the darkest of times, in the loneliest of times, on the border between improbable and impossible, that God is still there, and He hears all of our prayers.

And He makes good on His promises.

L’ilui nishmat Shayndel Gittle bat ha-Rav Eliezer Chaim, whose life was a model of this lesson

[cross-posted on divreidavid]

  1. effort or endeavor, the common phrase for man “doing his part,” otherwise known as, “God helps those who help themselves.” 

  2. although he is called “ha-eved” and “ha-ish” throughout the entire parashah without one mention of a name, the standard Rabbinic approach is to assume that the nameless personality is in fact Eliezer. 

  3. we mentioned that Avraham bought land in order to be part of the promise of the Land.  The second best way to take over a country is to marry your kids in to the local aristocratic families.  However, this is not an option for Avraham.  Instead, he opts for the idol worshipers back home, the very home from which he was instructed to cut himself off.  See Derashot ha-Ran, fifth derashah, for an explanation as to why. 

  4. The addition of “do not take Yitzhak back there,” must be read in context.  It is a response to Eliezer’s question, “Can I take him to hutz l’aretz?”  If Eliezer has instead asked, “What if I find a nice Canaanite girl hereabouts?” Avraham’s addendum may have been, “whatever you do, do not marry Yitzhak off to one of the local.” 

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