Eliezer’s Fear

Harav Chaim Davidzohn, zt”l, who would later become the Rav of his hometown of Warsaw, would periodically visit his close friend, Harav Akiva Eiger, zt”l, who was then Rav in Friedland. It was during one of these encounters that the famed Gaon mentioned to Harav Davidzohn that he was looking for a shidduch for his son, Shlomo, a renowned talmid chacham and Gaon in his own right.

After returning home, Harav Davidzohn decided to suggest his niece, the daughter of his brother-in-law, Reb Yisrael Hirschzon, a greatly respected philanthropist and supporter of Torah causes, who had a greatly praised daughter. In order to avoid any indication of bias, Harav Davidzohn asked Rav Naftali of Cracow to join him in writing a letter to Harav Akiva Eiger to suggest the shidduch.

Harav Akiva Eiger wrote back that he agreed to the shidduch and gave the two the authority to conclude the shidduch in his name. The two Rabbanim proceeded to do so and signed the tna’im on Harav Akiva Eiger’s behalf.

As news spread of the shidduch, scurrilous individuals, envious that Rav Hirschzon had merited such an illustrious shidduch, spread rumors that the kallah was a hunchback. When Harav Akiva Eiger was informed of what was presented to him as fact, he wrote a letter to Harav Davidzohn and Rav Naftali of Cracow, with a strong complaint.

The Gadol stated that while he didn’t consider this a blemish, and was sure his son wouldn’t either, as someone who, R”l, lost his first wife, he couldn’t possibly agree. He explained that he feared that his late wife’s father — his son’s maternal grandfather — would be hurt if he went through with such a shidduch.

Harav Davidzohn then proceeded to send the kallah — accompanied by suitable companions — to Friedland, and it soon became obvious that the rumors were blatantly false.

Harav Akiva Eiger promptly wrote an anguish-filled letter to Harav Davidzohn and Harav Naftali of Cracow, pleading for forgiveness.

“I don’t know why Hashem caused me to [commit] such a great sin, to cause pain to two such precious souls like you. I never even asked a disciple to hand me a sefer because I don’t know who learned from whom, and now … I would have rather accepted on myself to lie on a sickbed 12 months [than cause you such pain.] I ask you to forgive me and burn my [previous] letter. I also assure you that my son Shomo knew nothing of this. …”

We have no inkling about the greatness of Harav Akiva Eiger; however, as this anecdote illustrates, one has to be exceedingly careful about giving and transmitting information about others, especially when it comes to shidduchim.

The replies we give — both what we reveal and what we choose not to reveal — are often influenced by our personal likes or dislikes. Even a drop of (barely acknowledged) jealousy can have a disastrous impact on the words we choose to describe the person or family. In other situations, individuals pass on devastating second- or third-hand information that may, in fact, be wholly inaccurate and based on misunderstanding or even misidentification.

In a similar vein, feelings of friendship or misplaced compassion may lead us to choose to conceal crucial facts that according to halachah one is required to reveal, causing unspeakable harm and anguish to innocent individuals.

It is essential that everyone who is in a position to be approached about shidduch information be proficient in the practical application of the pertinent halachos, as laid down in Sefer Chofetz Chaim. Often a posek must be consulted.

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One of the outstanding heroes we learn about in this parashah is Eliezer, the devoted and selfless servant of Avraham Avinu. Entrusted by his master to find a shidduch for Yitzchak, he finds himself facing a conflict of interest, as in his heart he dearly desires Yitzchak as a son-in-law. Avraham Avinu informed him that “My son is blessed and you are cursed, and one who is blessed cannot cleave to one who is cursed.”

A lesser man would have found this rejection to be devastating, and declined his mission, or at the very least done an inferior job at it.

But not Eliezer, whose dedication to his master knew no bounds. Upon his arrival at his destination, he poured out his heart to Hashem in tefillah, beseeching that he be successful in his task.

Why was it necessary that davka someone with negius should be the messenger to arrange the shidduch for Yitzchak Avinu?

The Shem MiShmuel explains that every person has within him strengths that are hidden even from himself.

Eliezer had given his promise to Avraham Avinu that he would faithfully execute his mission, and fully intended to use all his abilities to do so. Cognizant of the fact that he had negius, reason to biased, he feared that perhaps this was holding him back from fulfilling his obligation to the utmost. This fear pushed him, in turn, to use abilities within himself, strengths that he didn’t even know existed, and daven to Hashem that it should be so obvious that this was the pre-ordained zivug that no room for doubts caused by negius could even occur.