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Parsha Chayei Sara

11/01/2018 10:07:32 PM


In the quest to find a wife for Yitzchak, it is Eliezer, the loyal servant of Avraham, who is the protagonist in the story and whose words and thoughts fill much of the Parsha.  Despite this esteemed status of lead-role, Eliezer is not mentioned by name, referred to instead as “the servant.”  While this is undoubtably reflective of Eliezer’s humility and capacity to completely “nullify” himself to Avraham, it still seems a bit too incredible that he is stripped of his very name and identity to become an extension of sorts to Avraham.

Back in Parshas Lech Licha when Avraham implores God to grant him a son, he says: “I am childless, and the steward of my house is Eliezer “Damesek.”  Simply understood, “Damesek” is the town of Eliezer’s origin, but the Talmud in Yoma 28b interprets Damesek to be an acronym of the phrase-“He gathered the Torah of his master and gave it to others to drink.”  From this perspective, “Damesek” is complimentary of Eliezer, depicting that he was no ordinary slave, but rather a devoted disciple of Avraham’s Torah and a great educator as well.  This definitely sheds light on Eliezer’s greatness, but the context of this compliment seems quite incongruous with Avraham’s complaint.  If Avraham is articulating why he wished for a son and felt unfulfilled with Eliezer as his heir, this hardly seems like the place for him to give a back-handed compliment to Eliezer for being such a great Torah scholar.  Why would this be the time and place to describe Eliezer as Damesek if this undermines Avraham’s very point of wanting more than Eliezer?


Perhaps Eliezer’s “Damesek” identity is precisely the point that Avraham was highlighting, because the Damesek acronym of “drawing water from his master and giving others to drink” implies that Eliezer functioned solely as a conduit to transfer Avraham’s teachings to other students, and despite the value this affords, it also indicates a stagnant and inhibited approach to Torah, where a student is unable to foster personal creativity and relies instead on copying information heard from teachers and outside sources.  Damesek pointed to Eliezer’s quality of preservation, to retain the information taught and pass it to others, but it simultaneously pointed to a looming death of novelty in Torah and a lack of courage to add, change, or disagree.  This is the difference between a slave and a son, as the slave’s position nullifies himself to his master and his teachings, whereas the son’s position takes the father’s essence and perpetuates it beyond.  


In Shir Hashirim 4, 11, the Pasuk describes Israel as “having honey and milk under their palate,” and the Gemara in Chagiga 13a explains that honey and milk here refer to the endless amount of Torah study consumed by Israel.  While the Gemara insinuates that the honey and milk are mean to reflect on Torah’s sweetness, why are both honey and milk needed for this description?


The Gemara in Bechoros 6-7 discusses the idea that besides from the prohibition against eating non-kosher animals, one must not anything produced by a non-kosher animal as well.  A chief example of this idea is that besides for the rule that one cannot eat pig’s meat, one cannot eat pig’s milk either.  Even though milk is a product of the pig and not the pig’s actual body, the Gemara uses Pesukim to teach that “anything that emerges from a non-kosher animal is forbidden.”  Given this principle, the Gemara wonders why we are allowed to eat bee’s honey, because their honey emerges from their bodies, much like milk is produced by the pig’s body.  Why is honey kosher?  

The Gemara distinguishes between the milk produced by a pig and honey produced a bee, in that the milk of the cow is considered a product of the pig itself, whereas the Halachic stance on honey is that the bees gather pollen and nectar from flowers, and simply “store” it their bodies to turn it into honey.  The bee does not “own” its honey; it takes an external material from flowers, and stores it inside its body to excrete honey.  Based on this Halachic nuance, it can be said that milk and honey represent two different facets of Torah learning, as milk is the innovative and new ideas that one’s mind produces, and honey is the Torah we learn from others and pass on.  One’s personal thoughts are like milk, a part and parcel of their essence, and speak to the value of creativity and individuality in Torah.  Too much milk is unhealthy, and honey balances this by preaching the value of what can be produced through gathering from others and transmitting it onwards.  The sweetness of honey is born through the ability to nullify one’s mind to another source and outside materials that expose the mind to different thinking, and through taking these outside sources and passing them on, one plays a crucial role in the Torah process.  Too much honey is also unhealthy, because the honey is not a product of the actual body, and the very reason that we are allowed to eat honey is the reason why honey alone impedes one’s personal development. 

Fri, January 18 2019 12 Shevat 5779