Properly Valuing Mitzvos

Vayomer Avraham el avdo zekan beiso ha’moshel b’chol asher lo sim na yadcha tachas yereichi (Bereishis 24:2)

When Avraham decided that it was time to seek a wife for Yitzchak, he called his trusted servant Eliezer to instruct him regarding the mission. As we have already been introduced to Eliezer and his role as Avraham’s servant several times in the Torah, why was it necessary to repeat and emphasize at this point that Eliezer controlled all of Avraham’s possessions?

On one of his travels, Harav Yisrael Salanter was in need of money. He requested a small loan from one of the local townsmen. Because the man didn’t recognize him, he was suspicious of the request. He demanded collateral or guarantors to the loan in order to avoid being swindled. Some time later, Harav Yisrael encountered that same man carrying a chicken, attempting to find somebody who could ritually slaughter it for him. The man approached him and asked if he was capable of doing so.

Seizing the opportunity, Harav Yisrael taught the man an invaluable lesson in priorities and values. He pointed out that with regard to the possibility of losing a small amount of money, the man suspected him of being a fraudulent con artist who wouldn’t repay his loan. Yet when it came to the risk of eating non-kosher meat if his animal wasn’t properly slaughtered, the man had no problem trusting him.

The Be’er Mayim Chaim answers our original question by comparing it to a case of a person visiting an unfamiliar town. If he is hungry, he will seek out a restaurant which advertises that it is kosher. For some people, this claim will be sufficient, while other, more G-d-fearing individuals will inquire among the locals about the standards of the proprietor. Still others will insist on speaking to the Rav of the town for his opinion about the reliability of the establishment.

On the other hand, if the visitor is coming to town to pursue a potential business partnership, such disparate approaches won’t exist. When money is at stake, nobody would dare rely on an advertised claim that the individual in question is honest, nor would he even consider accepting the opinions of the townsmen. He would remain in town until he is able to ascertain first-hand knowledge about the prospective partner.

The conduct of Avraham was precisely the opposite. To him, material possessions were significant only as a means to pursue his spiritual goals of serving Hashem and spreading His knowledge throughout the world. On the other hand, spiritual matters were viewed and treated with the utmost care. Avraham had no qualms about entrusting Eliezer with all his earthly possessions, but when it came to the selection of a wife for his spiritual inheritor, Yitzchak, a new standard had to be applied. Eliezer could be trusted only after swearing to adhere to Avraham’s instructions. Precisely at this time the Torah emphasizes Eliezer’s well-known position to contrast it with the concern which Avraham displayed in assigning him this new task and to teach us what Avraham’s true priorities and values were.

Parashah Q & A

Q: As the Torah forbids the practice of sorcery (Vayikra 19:26), which includes giving credence to superstition or random acts of chance, how was Eliezer permitted to rely on his arbitrary test (24:12–14) that whoever would offer him and his camels water to drink would be the proper spouse for Yitzchak?

A: Tosafos answers that although it seems from the text that Eliezer relied on his test and gave the jewelry to Rivkah as soon as she drew water for him and his camels, in reality he did not take any action until he first asked her about her identity. Only after she revealed that she was related to Avraham, thereby satisfying Avraham’s requirement for Yitzchak’s spouse, did Eliezer give her the gifts, in which case he did not superstitiously rely on his test.

The Me’iri maintains that it is permissible to use such a test if it is spelled out in advance of an episode, as Eliezer did when praying to Hashem before interacting with Rivkah, as the Torah only prohibits the post-facto interpretation of an incident, such as a black cat crossing one’s path, in a superstitious manner.

The Maharal posits that one may rely on a test for the sake of a mitzvah, such as finding a wife for Yitzchak.

The Ran and Kesef Mishneh suggest that it is only forbidden to design a test which is arbitrary, but not one which is logical. Therefore, it was not considered superstitious for Eliezer to rely on his test, because even if he had not designed it in advance, Rivkah’s willingness to draw water for him demonstrated her commitment to chessed and her suitability to marry Avraham’s son.


 

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.