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Parshas Chayei Sora

Rabbi Pesach Siegel

Parshat Chayei Sarah

Oct 21, 2009


Following the untimely death of Sorah Imeinu, Avrohom Avenu embarks on a search for a wife on behalf of his son Yitzchok. He entrusts his faithful servant Eliezer with the task. Eliezer was the father of a daughter and Avrohom Avenu took measures to ensure that Eliezer would choose someone from Avrohom's family in Aram Naharayim rather than his own daughter. After giving him strict instructions, he made him take an oath to the above effect.

Eliezer queries, "What is to be done if perhaps the girl that is chosen for Yitzchok will not travel to Eretz Yisroel to meet her intended? Shall I have Yitzchok travel to her instead?"(1) Avrohom answers in the negative. Since the time of the Akeida, Yitzchok is a sacred korban, he may not leave Eretz Yisroel.(2)

Eliezer proceeds to Aram Naharayim, whereupon he providentially happens upon Rivka. After verifying that Rivka is indeed worthy of becoming the bride of Yitzchok by virtue of her true mida of chessed, he begins negotiations with Rivka's brother Lavan.

He relates to Lavan the entire scope of his conversation with Avrohom Avenu, including his query, "Ulay Lo Soveh HaIsha Laleches Acharai",(3) Perhaps the woman will not consent to travel with me to Eretz Yisroel". The correct spelling of the word "Ulay" (perhaps) is "aleph", "vav", "lamed", "yud". In this instance it is spelled "aleph", "lamed", "yud" ˆ the "vav" being omitted. When spelled in this manner, the word may be pronounced "aylai" which means "to me". Chazal point out that although Eliezer pronounced the word "Ulay" (perhaps), he had a hidden intent. Had Rivka refused to accompany him, he hoped that Avrohom would consent to Yitzchok marrying his own daughter, hence the spelling of the word "aylai", meaning "to me". (4)

It is interesting to note that although he said the identical words to Avrohom Avenu, the change in the spelling of the word "ulay" came during his conversation with Lavan, indicating that he harbored no such thoughts while he was receiving his instructions from Avrohom. At that time he was the quintessential servant, having only his master's wishes in mind. It was only later, when he left Avrohom's presence, that he harbored thoughts of his own.

In order to enhance our understanding let us focus on Avrohom Avenu's refusal to consider Eliezer's daughter as a potential mate for Yitzchok. Avrohom told Eliezer, "Yitzchok is blessed while you are cursed. A cursed one may not cling to a blessed one." (5) Eliezer was a descendant of Canaan, who Noach cursed after emerging from the Teivah.

Eliezer, Avrohom's faithful servant, is called "Damesek Eliezer", The word Damesek is an acronym of the words "Doleh Umashkeh", meaning the one who draws from the well and gives of it's water. He was Avrohom's talmid, his vehicle for fulfilling his mission in the world of spreading Hashem's life sustaining Torah. He drew from Avrohom's Torah well and "watered" the world. (6) How is such an individual considered cursed? Hadn‚t he overcome any curse that was placed on his ancestor?

Rabeinu Bachai in his commentary to Parshas Mishpatim comments on the unique manner that an "Eved Canaani", a non-Jewish slave, goes free. If his master causes him to lose an eye or a tooth, that is grounds for his freedom. An "Eved Canaani" is named for the first slave, Canaan the son of Cham. Noach, upon emerging from the Teivah, harvested grapes, processed wine, and became inebriated. His son, Cham discovered him in an uncovered state. He viewed his father's nakedness and revealed it to his brothers, Shem and Yafes. According to Chazal, he had relations with his father and neutered him. (7) Cham prevented Noach from having a fourth son.

Noach cursed Cham's fourth son Canaan. He and his descendants would be destined to be slaves to the children of Shem and Yafes. Since Cham sinned with his eyes and his mouth, an Eved Canaani must remain a slave until his master is the cause of his losing an eye or a tooth. (8)

Why is slavery the chosen punishment of Cham's misdeed? Furthermore, what possible connection could there be between the curse of Canaan and the freeing of a non-Jewish slave? Does every slave bear the guilt of the iniquity of the very first slave? Is every slave a descendant of Canaan?

The name Cham means "heat". Cham was a prisoner of his hot desires. (9) That which distinguishes a man from a beast is man's ability to control himself. Cham, by committing unspeakable atrocities, broke all boundaries of reason. He was totally out of control. A man who has the uncontrolled nature of an animal is a source of destruction. He is a danger to the world. He can‚t control himself, therefore, others must exert their control over him. Hence the punishment of Canaan was to become a slave. A slave, say Chazal, is immoral, he is a creature of desire, and wishes to remain so. (10) His control is his master. He can only be a source of productivity while his passion is harnessed by the dominion of a master who can control and channel him.

Not every slave is a direct descendant of Cham, but one who finds himself in the circumstance of being a slave, it is certain that he has been placed there by the providential hand of Hashem due to his lack of ability to harness his desires. Every slave is a spiritual child of Canaan. When he "merits" to lose his eye or his tooth, he then goes free. Hashem has brought it about to set him free, for it is clear that he has developed himself to the point that he is fit to join society. He has rid himself of the sight and the speech of a slave.

Eliezer is "arur", cursed. He is a creature of "taavah", desire. It is not fitting that his daughter be a match for Yitzchok. The nation of Israel cannot emerge from such a union. Klal Yisroel's role is to master the drives and passions of the world. The heights that Eliezer reached were by virtue of his total attachment and proximity to Avrohom Avenu. He totally negated himself to his master. He had no will of his own.

It is inconceivable that while in the presence of Avrohom Avenu, Eliezer would have his own agenda. Avrohom's will was his will. Avrohom sent Eliezer away from him to find a wife for Yitzchok. He found it necessary to administer an oath to his faithful slave. Why an oath? Because he was departing from his master. The oath would assist him in resisting his desires even while being separated from Avrohom.

Perhaps this is why the word "ulay" is spelled properly in the setting of the dialogue between Eliezer and Avrohom. It is only misspelled when Eliezer finds himself away from Avrohom and in the company of Lavan. It is there that the nature of Canaan is allowed to emerge.

(1) Parshas Chayei Sora, Perek 24, Posuk 5
(2) Parshas Toldos, Perek 26, Posuk 2
(3) Parshas Chayei Sora, Perek 24, Posuk 39
(4) Rashi ibid.
(5) Rashi ibid.
(6) Parshas Lech Lecha, Perek 15, Posuk 2, Rashi
(7) Parshas Noach, Perek 9, Posuk 22, Rashi
(8) Commentary on Parshas Mishpatim, Perek 21, Posuk 26
(9) Gur Aryeh, Parshas Noach, Perek 9, Posuk 23
(10) Meseches Gittin, 13a

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