Yesterday, we noted the Talmudic proverb, “Something unflattering about you – say it first” (Bava Kama 92b). The Gemara cites as the source of this teaching the story of Avraham’s servant – commonly identified as Eliezer – who, as he began to explain to Rivka’s family his wish to bring Rivka to Canaan to marry Yitzchak, announced, “Eved Avraham anokhi” – “I am Avraham’s servant” (Bereishit 24:34). Eliezer offered this unflattering information about himself – that he was a just a servant – right from the outset, and thus serves an example of humbly acknowledging one’s less impressive qualities rather than trying to conceal or deny them.
We might gain further insight into the Gemara’s remark in light of the comments of Sefat Emet (Parashat Chayei-Sara, 5639) extolling Eliezer’s greatness in accepting his role as servant. The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 60:2) applies to Eliezer the description in Sefer Mishlei (17:2) of an “eved maskil” – “intelligent servant,” explaining that Eliezer said, “It is preferable for me to be subservient in this home than in someone else’s home.” Eliezer accepted his condition of servitude, and in fact celebrated the privilege he was given to serve a great man like Avraham. Sefat Emet adds: “It never occurred to him to find a way to leave his state of servitude, but rather to find his perfection in the state of servitude itself.” Eliezer realized that his status of servant could not be changed, but instead of resenting and feeling embittered by his inalterable condition, he decided to seek self-actualization within this role, to utilize the circumstances in the best possible manner. Sefat Emet cites in this context the adage, “Who is wise? He who recognizes his place” – meaning, the wise person accepts life circumstances which cannot be changed, and seeks to achieve the most he can under those conditions. And for this reason, Sefat Emet suggests, Eliezer began his presentation to Rivka’s family with the announcement, “Eved Avraham anokhi.” He made this announcement with pride, proclaiming that he wholeheartedly accepted and embraced his role as Avraham’s servant, and was committed to fulfilling his duties in this capacity to the very best of his ability.
If so, then we might revisit the Talmudic saying, “Something unflattering about you – say it first” which has its roots in Eliezer’s introductory pronouncement. The Gemara might be urging us to take pride even in our “unflattering” conditions, the unalterable aspects of our beings and our lives that limit us. We are told to proudly and unhesitatingly announce, “Eved anokhi,” that we are who we are, that we happily embrace our unique mission in the world, without resenting the limits imposed upon us by our inescapable realities. We are to recognize our “place,” the conditions and circumstances within which we live, and commit ourselves to doing the best we can with all that we’ve been given.