October 23, 2013
After the death of the Matriarch Sarah, Avraham Avinu sends his trusted servant Eliezer on a mission to find a suitable wife for his 37 year old son Isaac.
One of the reasons postulated for the delay in Isaac’s marriage is that if he had married earlier and had children then of course the test of the Akedat Yitzchak (the binding of Isaac) would have been no test at all.
Avraham makes Eliezer take a double oath.
In chapter 24 verse 8 we read:
8. And if the woman will not wish to go after you, you will be absolved of this, my oath; only do not return my son back there.” ח. וְאִם לֹא תֹאבֶה הָאִשָּׁה לָלֶכֶת אַחֲרֶיךָ וְנִקִּיתָ מִשְּׁבֻעָתִי זֹאת רַק אֶת בְּנִי לֹא תָשֵׁב שָׁמָּה:
To which Rashi comments:
you will be absolved of this, my oath: And take him a wife from the daughters of Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre. — [From Gen. Rabbah 49:8]
ונקית משבועתי וגו’: וקח לו אשה מבנות ענר אשכול וממרא:
only…my son: “Only” is restrictive. My son will not return, but Jacob, my grandson, will ultimately return.
The problem is that Aner, Eshkol and Mamre were all Cannanites, members of a nation which Avraham had already told Eliezer not to negotiate a marriage with.
Look at verse 3.
3. And I will adjure you by the Lord, the God of the heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose midst I dwell. ג. וְאַשְׁבִּיעֲךָ בַּיהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם וֵאלֹהֵי הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר לֹא תִקַּח אִשָּׁה לִבְנִי מִבְּנוֹת הַכְּנַעֲנִי אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי יוֹשֵׁב בְּקִרְבּוֹ:
The Maharal in his supra-commentary on Rashi explains in two different ways.
He points out that the final phrase “among whom I live” is apparently superfluous. Eliezer knew where Avraham was living and that it was amongst the Canaanites. It would ace been enough to tell him not to take a wife for Yitzchak from the Canaanites without adding the phrase among whom I live.
The Maharal deduces that Avraham would not allow Yitzchak to marry a Cannanite bride under any circumstances.
The Canaanites had been cursed by Noach and as the Rabbis of the Talmud put it אין ארור מתדבק בברוך. One who is cursed cannot be joined (in marriage) with one who is blessed.
Avraham was aware that Eliezer understood this but he may have thought that it was ok for Isaac to marry a daughter of Aner, Eshkol or Mamre. These three gentlemen we close associates and friends of Avraham and had always treated him well. In fact, they had a mutual defence pact which is why Avraham asked Mamre (the leader) for advice concerning the bris. That is Avraham would be out of action and unable to fulfil his obligation for a few days. ( see the Be’er Yosef)
Also HaShem had said that He would bless those who blessed him (Avraham) and since Aner, Eshkol and Mamre blessed Avraham perhaps they had gone out of the category of cursed. Therefore, Avraham had to emphasise ” among whom I live” in order to stress this point.
If Eliezer’s mission was to fail then as a last resort and only as a last resort, these three gentlemen were to be considered as prospective in-laws. Hence Rashi.
A second interpretation is offered by the Maharal. He reaches the same conclusion mentioned by Rashi but by a different route.
Taking the phrase ונקית משבועתי זאת
“then you be free from this oath of mine”
The implication, says the Maharal, is that there were two oaths. The first that Eliezer should not take a girl from the Canaanites for Isaac under any circumstances. The second oath ( or perhaps the second part of the oath [MHW] ) was that he should not take a daughter of Aner, Eshkol or Mamre.
From this second part, Eliezer could be released after making every effort to secure a bride for Isaac from Avraham’s family.
This is what Eliezer says in verse 49.
ואם לא, הגידו לי, ואפנה על ימין או על שמאל
And if you do not consent (to Rivka) then tell me and will turn right or left. To which Rashi comments quoting the Midrash, right to the family of Ishmael or left to the family of Lot. That is Avraham’s family in Canaan.
We can now understand the list of Avraham’s priorities.
1. A girl from my family and homeland
2. A girl from my family here in Canaan.
3. A daughter of Aner, Eshkol or Mamre. Neither family nor landsmen.
My Rebbe, Rabbi Leperer זצ״ל once asked why Avraham preferred a girl from Haran to a local girl even from his own family. After all, they were idolators and they were idolators.
He gave two reasons. The people of Haran, despite being idolators which is a philosophical mistake, were otherwise moral whereas the Canaanites were both idolators and immoral. Immorality and certainly the results of immorality are passed down whereas a mistake in belief can be corrected.
Another reason my Rebbe suggested was that a marriage is the coming together of two families. If your in-laws live locally then you will end up having afternoon tea with them. Avraham preferred to take a girl away from her family, far away and bring her into the tent of Sarah Imenu where she would become the Matriarch Rivka Imenu.
There is much more to say but I’ll stop here as I’m off to Bnai Brak to the wedding of my beloved niece Anat בשעה טובה ומוצלחת . מזל טוב לנו ולכל ישראל.