SALT - Motzaei Shabbat, November 19, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            The Torah in Parashat Chayei-Sara tells the famous story of Avraham’s servant, who was sent by his master to Aram Naharayim, Avraham’s homeland, to find a young woman from his family to marry his son, Yitzchak.  Among the surprising features of this story is the fact that the Torah never identifies the servant by name.  While Chazal and the commentators assume that the servant is Eliezer, whom Avraham mentions earlier (15:2) as the person entrusted over his home, the text here in Parashat Chayei-Sara refers to him as “Avraham’s servant,” or simply “the servant.”  Why would the Torah avoid using the name “Eliezer” throughout this narrative, and insist on referring to him anonymously as “Avraham’s servant”?

            Rav Amnon Bazak suggested that the answer might be found in Avraham’s reference to Eliezer earlier in Sefer Bereishit.  In response to God’s promise of reward, Avraham raised the question of what kind of reward he could receive in light of the fact that he had no children, and his estate stood to be inherited by Eliezer.  This oft-overlooked fact – that Eliezer was in line to inherit Avraham’s wealth until Yitzchak’s birth – sheds an entirely new light on Eliezer’s character as described here in Parashat Chayei-Sara.  Eliezer could have been excused for resenting Yitzchak, the one who came along and dashed his hopes of a future of great wealth.  And yet, when the time came for Yitzchak to marry and produce children of his own, Eliezer himself was assigned the task of finding a suitable mate for Yitzchak.  As the Torah describes, he not only fulfilled his duty faithfully, but also exuberantly rejoiced and thanked God when he realized that he had found the right spouse for Yitzchak (24:26-27), and again when her parents agreed to the match (24:52).  Eliezer showed no signs of envy or jealousy, despite the fact that his stature had been usurped by Yitzchak, whose destiny as Avraham’s heir Eliezer was now working to guarantee.

            This might explain why throughout this account the Torah refers to Eliezer not by his name, but as “Avraham’s servant.”  He was able to fulfill this mission with devotion and love because he ignored “Eliezer,” his personal aspirations and wishes, and instead saw himself exclusively as “Avraham’s servant.”  This entire story is about Eliezer’s absolute subservience to Avraham, and thus he is referred to by his relationship to Avraham, and not by his actual name.