SALT - Monday, 20 Cheshvan 5779 - October 29, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The Torah in Parashat Chayei-Sara tells of the mission Avraham assigned to his servant, commonly identified as Eliezer, instructing him to travel to Aram Naharayim and find a wife for Avraham’s son, Yitzchak.  We read that the servant set out from Canaan to Aram Naharayim with ten camels, with “kol tuv adonav be-yado” – literally, “all his master’s wealth in his hands” (24:10).  Quite obviously, it is impossible to imagine that the servant brought with him to Aram Naharayim all of Avraham’s fortune, which was considerable, and thus some explanation is needed for the term “kol tuv adonav” (“all his master’s wealth”) in this verse. 
            This question, presumably, is what led the Midrash, cited by Rashi, to explain the verse as referring to a legal document prepared by Avraham formally naming Yitzchak heir to his entire fortune.  Rashi writes that the servant brought this document in order to entice the family of the suitable girl to allow her to leave and travel to Canaan in order to marry Yitzchak.  According to this interpretation, then, the servant brought a deed which affirmed Yitzchak’s rights to all of Avraham’s wealth.
            The Ramban cites those who explain that the phrase “all his master’s wealth in his hands” is presented here as the reason why Avraham’s servant went ahead and took camels laden with gifts, despite not having been explicitly authorized to so.  Avraham did not instruct his servant to take riches with him to Aram Naharayim, but the servant did so because he was fully entrusted over all of Avraham’s fortune.  The Torah here thus explains that the servant took with him ten camels loaded with expensive gifts because “kol tuv adonav be-yado” – he had complete access to Avraham’s assets, given the level of trust he had earned.  This approach – cited anonymously by the Ramban – is adopted by Chizkuni and Seforno.
            The Ramban himself prefers a different explanation, suggesting that the verse be read to mean that the servant took all his master’s wealth that could be loaded onto ten camels.  He brought with him as many of the choicest, highest-quality goods in Avraham’s possession as could be carried by ten camels in order to entice the girl deemed suitable as a wife for Yitzchak.
            Chizkuni cites those who avoid this problem by noting the prefix “mi-” that appears earlier in the verse, in reference to the camels – “mi-gemalei adonav” (“from his master’s camels”).  These commentators suggest that this prefix is intended to modify not only the word “gemalei” (“camels”), but also the word “kol tuv,” such that the verse should be read as, “The servant took ten camels from his master’s camels, and from all of his master’s fortune.”  According to this reading, the verse means that the servant took a sampling of the many different kinds of riches that Avraham owned.
            An entirely different approach to solving this problem appears in the commentary of the Rashbam, who explains the term “kol tuv” as referring not to property, but to people.  According to the Rashbam, this verse means that the servant took with him the most prominent of Avraham’s men.  As the Rashbam notes, the Torah later (e.g. 24:54) makes reference to the men who journeyed together with Eliezer, clearly indicating that he did not travel alone, but was rather joined by a cadre of Avraham’s people.  The Rashbam thus suggests that when the Torah speaks of the servant taking “kol tuv adonav,” it means that he brought with him the most important and influential of Avraham’s men.