SALT - Thursday, 23 Cheshvan 5777 - November 24, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            After Avraham instructs his trusted servant to travel to Aram Naharayim and select a mate for Yitzchak, the servant poses the question of how he should proceed if the prospective wife refuses to leave and relocate Canaan.  The servant wanted to know whether he should bring Yitzchak to Aram Naharayim to marry the young woman, or if he should refuse the match and find another woman for Yitzchak.  Avraham emphatically responds that Yitzchak should not be brought there under any circumstances.  If the family refuses, Avraham said, then the servant should find a girl from among the local Canaanite population (24:5-8).

            Avraham concludes his instructions by reiterating, “rak et beni lo tasheiv shama” – “but do not bring my son back there” (24:8).  Rashi, citing the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 59), comments that the word “rak” is often used as a mi’ut – a qualifying term, limiting the scope of that which is being said.  In this instance, the Midrash writes, the word “rak” implies that “my son should not return, but Yaakov, my grandson, will ultimately return.”  As Avraham expressed his emphatic, unequivocal refusal to allow Yitzchak to leave Canaan, he prophetically alluded to the fact that Yitzchak’s son, Yaakov, will, indeed, have to leave Canaan to find a mate.  Indeed, we read later in Sefer Bereishit of how Yaakov was forced to leave Canaan and settle in Charan, where he married his two cousins, Rachel and Leah.  Avraham alluded to this eventuality in his response to his servant’s question instructing him never to bring Yitzchak out of Canaan.

            We might ask, why does the Midrash introduce this “mi’ut” in this context?  Why must we be informed already now, as Avaham’s servant prepares to find a mate for Yitzchak, that the policy strictly implemented with regard to Yitzchak would not be applied to Yaakov?

            One answer, perhaps, is that Chazal wanted to emphasize to us that all people do not have to follow the precise same course of action, and what is appropriate and suitable for one person is not necessarily expected of another.  The simple reading of the text is that “rak” is an expression of emphasis, through which Avraham communicates to his servant the dire importance of disallowing Yitzchak to leave Canaan for marriage.  The Midrash insightfully observes that while this was a matter of grave importance with regard to Yitzchak, it was no concern at all with regard to Yaakov.  As strictly as Avraham forbade his servant from bringing Yitzchak out of his homeland, there was no such barrier imposed upon Yaakov.  Different theories have been offered for why Yitzchak was forbidden to leave and Yaakov was not, but regardless, the message being conveyed is that what was strictly prohibited for one patriarch was perfectly acceptable for the other.  Yitzchak and Yaakov were both great in different ways, and they led very different lives.  They did not have to be precise replicas of one another to be equally accomplished.  And thus Chazal drew our attention to the fact that while leaving Canaan was emphatically forbidden for Yitzchak, this was precisely what was expected of his son and successor.

            Although we all share the same basic code of Halakha and religious values to which we are all equally and unconditionally bound, there is plenty of room beyond these parameters for individualization.  Different people will naturally seek to excel and “specialize” in different areas, and to focus their attention on different aspects of Torah life.  The Midrash here reminds us that the special rules that apply to one person do not necessarily have to be applied to another, as we must all strive and work to both fulfill our shared responsibilities as well as pursue our own individual paths towards spiritual excellence, each according to our own unique capabilities, talents and orientations.