שביבי אש
לסדר חיי שרה

וַיִּהְיוּ חַיֵּי שָׂרָה מֵאָה שָׁנָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וְשֶׁבַע שָׁנִים

And Sarah was a hundred and twenty-seven years old (Genesis 23:1)

Rashi comments that the Scripture writes "shanah" (years) after "hundred" and "twenty" and "seven" to tell us that when Sarah was twenty years old, her beauty was like that of a seven-year old. Many have wondered about this comment since a woman is more beautiful when she is twenty than when she is seven. But our master explains this according to what some philosophers have written, which is that when a woman's beauty is so extraordinary that people are astonished by it, she does not arouse desire on the part of an observer, because his senses and feelings are so overwhelmed that he is unable to feel desire.

Now Sarah, our mother, possessed such overwhelming beauty. (See Megilah 22 and the Maharshah there). Yet Avraham, our father, did not grasp the full extent of his wife's beauty. Still, he was concerned and said (Genesis 12:11-12): "Behold now, I know that you are a woman beautiful to behold. and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife;' then they will kill me, but they will let you live." (הִנֵּה נָא יָדַעְתִּי כִּי אִשָּׁה יְפַת-מַרְאֶה אָתְּ יב וְהָיָה כִּי יִרְאוּ אֹתָךְ הַמִּצְרִים וְאָמְרוּ אִשְׁתּוֹ זֹאת וְהָרְגוּ אֹתִי וְאֹתָךְ יְחַיּוּ) But the Scripture tells us that when Avraham came to Egypt, "the Egyptians saw that she was very beautiful" (וַיִּרְאוּ הַמִּצְרִים אֶת הָאִשָּׁה כִּי יָפָה הִוא מְאֹד) which means that, contrary to Avraham's opinion that she was beautiful, but not extraordinarily so, her beauty did, indeed, surpass that of other women. The Egyptians, therefore, did not, as Avraham had feared, respond to her at all, they merely remarked on her exceptional beauty. The Scripture makes a further point: "And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh" (יִּרְאוּ אֹתָהּ שָׂרֵי פַרְעֹה וַיְהַלְלוּ אֹתָהּ אֶל פַּרְעֹה) which means that even the princes of Pharaoh did not, owing to her exceptional beauty, desire her for themselves. Instead, they praised her to Pharaoh, which, as Rashi explains, means that they praised her among themselves as one who was fit for the king. We know also that in their eyes the king was a deity not an ordinary human being, as Pharaoh said, "the river is mine and I have made it." Thus, the princes said that a woman such as this is fit only for a divine king, but not for ordinary human beings like us.

This explains why the Torah compares Sarah's beauty at the age of twenty to that of a seven-year old. Even as a seven-year old does not arouse physical desire, similarly Sarah, when she was twenty, did not, owing to her exceptionally great beauty, arouse physical desire.

וַיִּקַּח הָעֶבֶד עֲשָׂרָה גְמַלִּים מִגְּמַלֵּי אֲדֹנָיו וַיֵּלֶךְ וְכָל טוּב אֲדֹנָיו בְּיָדוֹ וַיָּקָם וַיֵּלֶךְ אֶל אֲרַם נַהֲרַיִם וגו'

Then the servant took ten of his master's camels and departed, taking all the goodly things of his master in his hand, and he arose and went to Mesopatamia (Genesis 24:10)

It may be asked why was "וַיֵּלֶךְ" (he went) written twice. It seems to our master that this may be explained according to the aggadic interpretation of the verse that the earth leapt for Eliezer (i.e., his journey was miraculously shortened). Eliezer must have used one of the holy names of G-d to achieve this miracle. Moreover, just as the law prohibits one from deciding a question in the presence of his master, neither may one use any of the names in the presence of his master. The holy Shalah of blessed memory wrote that "טוב" with a "חולם" denotes the revealed Torah while "טוב" with a "שורוק" denotes the esoteric Torah. This is why it is written: "Then the servant took ten of his master's camels, and departed; taking all the goods of his master in his hand, and he arose and went to Mesopatamia." He went as would have any traveler even though "all the goodly things" (כל טוב) of Avraham were in his hand, meaning that his master had turned over to him the secrets of the Torah. It would have been within Eliezer's power to mention one of the names of G-d while he was still in Avraham's presence. But he did not do so. Instead, he left Avraham just as he always did. Only after traveling some distance away from Avraham did Eliezer arise, which means that he rose up to his full height and uttered the name of G-d, whereupon he immediately arrived in Mesopatamia. And see below on the verse ואבא היום אל העין.

וָאֹמַר אֶל אֲדֹנִי אֻלַי לֹא תֵלֵךְ הָאִשָּׁה אַחֲרָי

And I said to my master, Perhaps the woman will not follow me (Genesis 24:39)

Rashi comments that the written text is "אֻלַי" (to me) instead of "אוּלַי" (perhaps) from which we learn that Eliezer had a daughter whom he wished Yitzhak to marry. Avraham told Eliezer, "my son is blessed, and you are cursed, and one who is blessed may not marry one who is cursed." This is very problematic. First, shouldn't the inference that Eliezer had a daughter whom he wanted Yitzhak to marry have been drawn from the passage recounting Eliezer's actual conversation with Avraham? Why should the inference have been drawn from the conversation in the house of Lavan? Second, how do we know how Avraham responded to Eliezer? Third, why when the Scripture recounts his conversation with Avraham does Eliezer say, "the woman will not want to go" (לֹא תֹאבֶה הָאִשָּׁה לָלֶכֶת) but in his conversation with Lavan, Eliezer says "the woman will not go" (לֹא תֵלֵךְ הָאִשָּׁה)?

In the book אפיקי יהודה, an answer is proposed to the first question. The author suggests that Eliezer's motives were hinted at when Eliezer said "perhaps (אוּלַי) the woman will not want to go." The word "אוּלַי" always indicates "הלואי" (may it be that) as our Sages explained in connection with the verse (Job 1:5): "It may be that my sons have sinned" (אולי חטאו בני). For whenever one does not wish the contingent event to occur the word "lest" (פן) is used as in: "lest your heart be deceived" (פן יפתה לבבכם) (Deuteronomy 11:16); "and lest you lift up your eyes" (פן תשא עיניך) (Deuteronomy 4:19) and the like. This observation is correct, but it only reinforces the question why Rashi did not base his comment about Eliezer on the earlier verse "perhaps she will not want to go" (אולי לא תאבה האשה ללכת) instead of this verse in which he recounted his conversation with Avraham to Lavan. So what does the word "אולי"/"אלי" used in the discussion with Lavan teach us?

The book אוהל יעקב takes a different approach and maintains that until Eliezer said in the house of Lavan "perhaps she will not come after me" his desire that Yitzhak should marry his daughter was never revealed. But in saying this to Lavan and Betueil, Eliezer disclosed his true wish, for what did Eliezer accomplish by recounting his earlier conversation with Avraham to the family of Rivkah? Was Eliezer not denigrating Yitzhak by even suggesting that there was any reason to fear that Rivkah might not want to follow him back to Canaan to marry Yitzhak? And Eliezer chose his words carefully. But this interpretation leads into an even greater conundrum, because in that case Avraham could not have known of Eliezer's wish that Yitzhak should marry his own daughter. The Scripture informs us of Eliezer's intention only by recounting to us that he told Lavan "perhaps (אוּלַי) she will not follow me." If so, how is it possible that Avraham spoke to him concerning a posסדsibility (a marriage between Yitzhak and Eliezer's daughter) which Avraham never knew or heard of? One might say that Eliezer must have had a prior conversation with Avraham about the possibility of Yitzhak marrying his daughter, which was when Avraham told Eliezer that one who is blessed may not marry one who is cursed. But in that case, why did Eliezer mention the subject to the family of Rivkah when he already knew that, even if Rivkah did not come back with him to marry Yitzhak, Avraham would not have allowed Eliezer's daughter to marry Yitzhak, but would, as Rashi says, have taken one of the daughters of Aner, Eshkol or Mamre as a bride for Yitzhak?

And it appears to our master that these two ideas may be joined together and explained as follows. When Eliezer said to Avraham "perhaps (אוּלַי) she will not want to follow me," (by which he meant: "may it be that she will not want to follow me"), instead of saying "lest (פֶן) she will not want to follow me," Avraham understood Eliezer's intention perfectly. If Avraham did not reply at all, so that Eliezer could still have harbored a hope that his daughter might marry Yitzhak, then Eliezer, had he wished to undermine the match between Yitzhak and Rivkah, would have changed his wording and said "lest (פֶן) she not want to follow me" instead of "perhaps (אוּלַי) she will not want to follow me." For the word "perhaps" (אוּלַי) would reveal his intention to Rivkah's family as well. It is therefore certain that Avraham had already told Eliezer that one who is blessed may not marry one who is cursed, so that Eliezer's hopes had already been disappointed. When speaking to Lavan and Betuel, Eliezer was thus attempting to heighten their desire for the match by informing them that he, too, had very much wanted his daughter to marry Yitzhak, but had been rebuffed by Avraham.

The Scripture therefore writes "אולי/אלי" to indicate to us that Eliezer told the family of Rivkah in detail of his conversation with Avraham. Eliezer therefore had to tell them that Avraham did not want Yitzhak to marry his daughter, because Avraham considered himself and Yitzhak to be blessed. It was thus that Eliezer achieved his goal in gaining the consent of Rivkah's family to her marriage to Yitzhak. We can now also understand why Rashi based his comment on the second "אוּלַי" not the first one. For it is the second "אוּלַי" from which the reply of Avraham to Eliezer can be inferred. The first "אוּלַי" indicated only that Eliezer had a daughter of his own whom he wished Yitzhak to marry. This also explains well why Eliezer said to Avraham, "perhaps the woman may not be willing to follow me" which suggests that there was reason to fear that she would not want to follow him. But in the house of Lavan he changed his wording and said, "perhaps the woman will not follow me," which means: "may it be that the woman will not follow me for some reason or other," but not that there was any reason why Rivkah would not want to go with him.

וָאָבֹא הַיּוֹם אֶל הָעָיִן

And I came this day to the well (Genesis 24:42)

Rashi comments: "Today I started on my journey and today I arrived here." Hence we may infer that the earth leapt for him (i.e., his journey was miraculously shortened). R. Aha said: "The ordinary conversation of the servants of the Patriarchs was more pleasing to G-d than the Torah (halakhic discourse) of their children, inasmuch as the chapter of Eliezer (the account of his journey) is repeated in the Torah (i.e., first in narrative form and then as part of Eliezer's conversation with the family of Rivkah) while many important principles of the Law are only inferred from nuances in the text."

Many have wondered why the remark of R. Aha was mentioned here since it appears to be unrelated to the comment that precedes it. Nor is it clear how Rashi inferred from the word "הַיּוֹם" (today) that Eliezer left Canaan and arrived in Haran in one day.

And our master was able to provide a single answer to both questions. In the initial narrative, the Scripture told us how Eliezer went (Genesis 24:10): "He arose and he went" (ויקם וילך). It then immediately tells us (24:11) "and he made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water" ( ויברך הגמלים מחוץ לעיר אל באר המים), without telling us anything about his journey. But in his conversation with Rivkah's family, we find the opposite: Eliezer says nothing about his departure and mentions only his arrival. That suggests that the departure and the arrival were identical, that his departure was immediately followed by his arrival. How very appropriate therefore was the comment of the Sages that the departure and the arrival coincided because the mountains skipped like rams and the valleys like sheep. However, one could still maintain that the Scripture was just being terse, mentioning the departure in the original narrative and the arrival in the conversation at the house of Lavan, without intending to indicate that a miraculous shortening of the journey had occurred. That is why Rashi records the comment of R. Aha that the conversation of the servants of the Patriarchs was more pleasing to G-d than the halakhic discourses of their children. For this comment proves that the Scripture was not being terse, but recounted in full the events of Eliezer's journey twice. How then is it possible that the only events that Scripture would not have mentioned twice were his departure and his arrival? It must be, therefore, that the Scripture intended to teach us that Eliezer's journey was miraculously shortened.

וַתָּקָם רִבְקָה וְנַעֲרֹתֶיהָ וַתִּרְכַּבְנָה עַל הַגְּמַלִּים וַתֵּלַכְנָה אַחֲרֵי הָאִישׁ וַיִּקַּח הָעֶבֶד אֶת רִבְקָה וַיֵּלַךְ

And Rebekah and her maids arose, and rode upon the camels and followed the man; and the servant took Rebekah, and went his way (Genesis 24:61)

One may ask why it says: "and the servant took Rebekah" after the Scripture had already said that she and her servants followed the man. See the Ramban and the Ibn Ezra who tried to answer this question.

And to our Master it appears that this can be explained from the inference from this verse drawn by the Talmud (Berahot 61a) that one should follow a lion rather than follow a woman. It is evident, therefore, that Eliezer did not want to follow Rivkah, but, instead, went ahead of her. However, he went ahead of her only until the agents of her family formally transferred custody of Rivkah to the agent of her husband (i.e., to Eliezer), for until that moment Rivkah was not yet considered to be Eliezer's mistress and he was not yet considered to be her servant. (See Ketubot 48b: "if her father's agents delivered her to her husband's agents, she passes under the authority of her husband.") But once the agents of the family left her, Rivkah became Eliezer's mistress and he her servant. After that transfer of custody, it would have been a breach of protocol for Eliezer to travel ahead of Rivkah. Eliezer therefore took Rivkah from among her retinue and placed her at his side. And if you look carefully you will see that before she was conveyed into Eliezer's custody, the Scripture refers to him as "the man" (אִישׁ) but afterwards it calls him "the servant" (עֶבֶד). That is why it is written "they followed the man" until her father's agents returned to Haran, when Eliezer was still considered a man rather than her servant. But after the agents of her family returned home, it says "the servant took Rivkah." Once Eliezer became Rivkah's servant, he took her to travel at his side.