Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Chayei Sara
To dedicate this lesson

From Slave to Somebody


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Cheshvan 25 5781
Like pretty much any red-blooded American kid, I collected baseball cards when I was young. Now, if you understand that the national religion of the United States is sports, then you know that baseball is the Kodesh Ha-Kadashim and the Avot and Imahot are the apocryphal stars (Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks, et al) that have played the game through the ages.

At the heart of this obsession are Stats. To know baseball, you have to know the statistics behind it: That the distance from the pitcher to the batter is 60 feet, 6 inches, while the distance between each base is 90 feet. You have to know how far it is from home plate to the outfield fences, and you certainly have to know the individual players' stats: Their walks, hits, home runs or stolen bases; whether they pitch left or right-handed and their strikeouts or earned-run averages. There is even a term invented for all these facts and figures: "sabermetrics." Any kid worth his baseball cap must know all of these numbers - by heart, immediately, even subconsciously.

"OK, so what does all this possibly have to do with our Parsha?!" you wonder incredulously.

Well, here's a stat for you that I find incredible: The central story of our Sedra is the mission of Eliezer, at Avraham's behest, to find a suitable wife for Yitzchak. This episode, which takes up the entirety of the 24th chapter and comprises no less than 67 p'sukim, minutely details the events of the search. And how many times is Eliezer - a central character of this narrative - mentioned by name in these 67 verses? Not even once!! He is referred to as "eved-slave" 13 times, and he is called "Ish - a man" 8 times, but never once is he called Eliezer! The other players in the game all get name-recognition: Avraham, Sara, Yitzchak, Rivka, Lavan, Betuel, even Lavan's grandmother Milka and Avraham's brother Nachor - but not Eliezer.

Hashem help me ("Eliezer!") if this stat didn't boggle my mind!

So there are those who suggest that perhaps Eliezer is not named because he was just a functionary, a messenger sent on a mission whose identity is essentially unimportant and inconsequential. Others note that Avraham rejected Eliezer's daughter as a possible match for Yitzchak - the Medrash even says that Avraham told him, "My son is blessed and you, as a Canaanite, are cursed" - and so the Torah does not want to accord Eliezer any particular honor or recognition, not even uttering his name.

But I think I have a kinder, gentler approach. In a sense, each of us is an "eved," a servant of G-d brought to this world to accomplish our own particular mission. That task is imposed upon us, to be honest, for no one asks to be born; Hashem commands it from above. But when we execute our mission, when we validate our life by seeing our unique service through to its fruition, we graduate from "eved" to "Ish." That term "Ish - Man," say Chazal, is always a title of honor and admiration, proudly bestowed upon those (Noach, Yakov, Mordechai, etc.) who faithfully fulfill their assignments.

In that sense, Eliezer - clearly with G-d's help - successfully completes his task. He will never be mentioned again, but for at least this crucial moment in our history - as the torch passes from one leader to the next - Eliezer makes it all the way to home base and he is, simply, The Man.
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