When holy meet cynical

Shabbat Kodesh Parashat Chayei Sara

Eliezer comes to Haran to find a suitable Shidduch (marriage matchmaking) for Yizchak. His mission seems to go (literally) miraculously well, as we read in this week’s Parsha. It goes exactly as he wished. He prayed for the right girl to show up, to offer drinks to him and his camels. Even before he finishes this prayer, Rebekah arrives and offers him exactly that.

Now, it is quite touching to read how he tells the proposed Mechutan, i.e. his father-in-law, Bethuel, the long story of Yitzchak’s birth, late in the life of his parents, as well as the latest miracle of meeting Rebekah at the spring as per his Tefila, his prayer. He concludes by asking for their permission for the Shidduch to go ahead. Their response is very short:

הִנֵּֽה־רִבְקָ֥ה לְפָנֶ֖יךָ קַ֣ח וָלֵ֑ךְ וּתְהִ֤י אִשָּׁה֙ לְבֶן־אֲדֹנֶ֔יךָ כַּאֲשֶׁ֖ר דִּבֶּ֥ר יְהוָֽה׃

“Here is Rebekah before you; take her and go, and let her be a wife to your master’s son, as the LORD has spoken.”

Am I wrong in detecting more than a little bit of sarcasm in the wording?

“Here is Rebekah, before you, take her and go“?

This seems to be confirmed by the continuation of the conversation. 

וַיֹּאכְל֣וּ וַיִּשְׁתּ֗וּ ה֛וּא וְהָאֲנָשִׁ֥ים אֲשֶׁר־עִמּ֖וֹ וַיָּלִ֑ינוּ וַיָּק֣וּמוּ בַבֹּ֔קֶר וַיֹּ֖אמֶר שַׁלְּחֻ֥נִי לַֽאדֹנִֽי׃

“Then he and the men with him ate and drank, and they spent the night. When they arose the next morning, he (Eliezer) said, “Give me leave (us) to go to my master.”

Now, they become serious and say:

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אָחִ֙יהָ֙ וְאִמָּ֔הּ תֵּשֵׁ֨ב הַנַּעֲרָ֥ אִתָּ֛נוּ יָמִ֖ים א֣וֹ עָשׂ֑וֹר אַחַ֖ר תֵּלֵֽךְ׃

“But her brother and her mother said, “Let the girl remain with us some days (a year, according to Rashi!) then you may go.”

Did they not say just the night before “Take her and go”?

It was the “cultural clash” between the deeply religious and pious Eliezer, who fondly told his story at night, and expected them to be as impressed with the exceptional way things have turned out, on the one hand.

On the other hand, Bethuel and Laban (son of Bethuel, brother of Rebekah and father of Leah and Rachel) did not care at all about their guests’ miracles. They told him cynically the night before:

 “If so, take her and go”

Expecting him to realise their scepticism. Eliezer did not. He was no fool and not naive, but he was a believer. For him, the story meant it all. For them – nothing at all.

At the end. He won, but only after the girl herself has “sided” with his interpretation of events.

Warm regards and Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Chaim Michael Biberfeld