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Parsha Chayei Sarah

11/21/2019 03:44:55 PM


The main plot of Parshas Chayei Sara is Eliezer’s crucial assignment of finding a suitable match for Yitzchak.  With Avraham growing older and his lone son remaining single, the need to actualize God’s promises of perpetuation and nationhood took on a sense of urgency as Avraham sends Eliezer on a mission of paramount importance.  In introducing Eliezer, the Torah writes that Avraham turned to his slave, “the senior member of his house, who ruled over everything he had.”  Although the literal meaning of “who ruled over everything he had” is that Eliezer was in charge of all of Avraham’s assets, the Kli Yakar suggests a novel interpretation of the phrase that affords a glimpse into the greatness of Eliezer’s character and explains why he was the right person to help start the Jewish people.  The phrase can mean that Eliezer ruled over everything that He, Eliezer, had.  Everyone has many “things” in life- talents, weaknesses, values, assets, experiences, family, and friends- and these “things” can threateningly come to define and shape self-perception in a way that one is almost controlled by them.  Man is ideally defined by autonomy, of freedom to choose, of being in control of all these things to decide how to be defined and how to relate to what exists inside and around them.  As a person in control of himself, Eliezer was able to really choose who he was and how he wanted to act despite certain instinctive callings from inside.  The Gemara in Baba Basra says that the righteous are referred to as “rulers” because they “rule over their inclinations,” and given that interpretation, the Kli Yakar’s idea seems quite fitting.  Moreover, the Vilna Gaon explains a subtle difference between the term “Moshel”- a ruler- and “Melech”-a king.  While both are positions of control and power, a king leads through acceptance from his subjects unlike a ruler who may assertively thrust power over his subjects in autocratic manner.  Sometimes the leadership over the “things” inside us may take on a “Melech” definition where our inclinations and feelings are supportive of what we do, but there are other times when Eliezer and the righteous teach us of the need to “Moshel” over what is inside and oppressively resist their wishes.  Is this all a pretentious and complicated way of describing what we simply call the “Yetzer Hara?”  Is the demonic monster really just us controlled by the "things" inside?  



Many commentators explore the idea of Rashi that Eliezer himself had a daughter who he dreamed would marry Yitzchak, and how he struggled with mixed loyalties by betrothing Rifka to Yitzchak.  How did Avraham trust so deeply?  Did Eliezer’s personal bias not obviously disqualify him?  How was Eliezer that confident to accept such a dangerous mission?  Perhaps the answer lies in the few words the Torah uses to describe Eliezer- “He ruled over all he had.”  Eliezer was very honest with himself and he understood the beast inside, and yet, he was not a person who let himself be defined by his personal interests.  He appreciated his own complexities and divided loyalties, and knew that he would rule over the internal tug-of-war and act in the way that he would choose to be correct.  It is this simple quality that allows a righteous man to hate the sins of the wicked and yet act nicely to them, to love the game despite the players, to exercise restraint at times, and to rise to the occasion at other times.  A fool does not recognize the beast inside, the coward recognizes it and weakly retreats, but the Man of strength listens to it and then rules over it.

Wed, June 7 2023 18 Sivan 5783