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Most of this week’s parashah is devoted to Eliezer’s journey to find a wife for Yitzchak. The Midrash Rabbah quotes the verse (Yeshayah 50:10), “Who among you fears Hashem, listening to the voice of His servant? Though he may have walked in darkness with no light for himself, let him trust in the Name of Hashem, and lean upon his Elokim.” The midrash comments: “Who among you fears Hashem”–this refers to Eliezer. “Listening to the voice of His servant”–Eliezer listened to Avraham, G-d’s servant. “Though he may have walked in darkness”–when he went to bring Rivka. “With no light for himself”–but Hashem lit the way with bolts of lightning. “Let him trust in the Name of Hashem, and lean upon his Elokim”–therefore he said (Bereishit 24:12), “Hashem, Elokim of my master Avraham, may You so arrange it for me this day.” [Until here from the midrash]

R’ David Cohen z”l (1887-1972; instructor at Yeshivat Merkaz Ha’Rav; known as the “Nazir”) asks: Where does the Torah say that Eliezer traveled in the dark or during a lightning storm? He explains:

There is a dispute between the early halachic authorities, Rambam z”l and Ra’avad z”l, whether Eliezer’s reliance on a sign–whether the girl would offer to give water to Eliezer’s camels–was halachically proper or was improper (as it would be improper for a person to cancel a journey because a black cat crossed his path). However, writes R’ Cohen, this midrash is teaching that Eliezer actually placed his trust in Hashem, and the “sign” which he set up was intended as no more than a momentary flash of light, a bolt of lightning in an otherwise pitch black “night,” to give him comfort that he was on the right path.

Indeed, R’ Cohen writes, shidduchim / dating is always like that. Every couple is in the dark about what to look for and whether they are meant for each other. From time-to-time, a “bolt of lightning” will light the darkness to show the parties that they are on the right path. Still, in the final analysis, one must rely on Hashem. (Zachu Shechinah Beineihem p.89)

“You are a prince of Elokim in our midst.” (23:6)

R’ Yisrael Derbaremdiker z”l (1776-1818; rabbi of Pikov, Ukraine; son of R’ Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev z”l) writes: Often, when a tzaddik is found among a group of people, he causes Heaven to judge them [because they compare unfavorably to him], as we read (Melachim I 17:18) “Why have you [Eliyahu Ha’navi] come here to call attention to my sins?” On the other hand, there are tzaddikim whose presence among people causes Hashem to look upon them with rachamim / compassion. Such tzaddikim are those who mix with the masses. Therefore the Hittites said to Avraham: “Please bring G-d’s compassion upon us, for ‘You are a prince of Elokim’–you can, so-to-speak control the Attribute of Justice, which is alluded to by the name ‘Elokim’–because you are ‘in our midst’.” (Toldot Yitzchak ben Levi)

“Avraham heeded Efron, and Avraham weighed out to Efron the price which he had mentioned in the hearing of the Hittites–four hundred silver shekels in negotiable currency. And Efron’s field, which was in the Machpelah . . . [passed to Avraham].” (23:16-17)

The Gemara (Kiddushin 2a) derives from a gezeirah shavah / similar terminology in two verses that, just as the transaction between Avraham and Efron was consummated by the transfer of cash, so a marriage can be consummated by the transfer of cash (or a cash equivalent such as a ring).

What can we learn from the Torah’s choice to equate marriage with Avraham’s purchase of the Me’arat Ha’machpelah? R’ Mendel Bluming shlita (rabbi in Potomac, Maryland) suggested the following answer:

Efron believed he was receiving 400 shekels for a worthless rocky field. Avraham believed he had paid a bargain price for the right to be buried in the same plot as Adam and Chava. Thus, each participant in the transaction was convinced that he was the beneficiary of the better part of the bargain. By equating this transaction to marriage, said R’ Bluming, the Torah is teaching that this should be the attitude of the participants to a marriage as well. (Heard from R’ Bluming, 18 Tammuz 5770)

“Now the maiden was very fair to look upon . . . She descended to the spring, filled her jug and ascended. The slave [Eliezer] ran towards her . . .” (24:16-17)

R’ Avigdor Tzarfati z”l (France; 13th century) writes: Eliezer made up his mind about the girl (Rivka) immediately. From here we learn that it is sufficient when evaluating a shidduch / match to know that the girl is healthy and has good middot. It does not matter if her family is not particularly fine, as Rivka’s was not; provided, of course, that the family is not one with which a match is prohibited or discouraged by halachah. (Peirushim U’pesakim Le’rabbeinu Avigdor Tzarfati)

“Lavan and Betuel answered and said, ‘The matter originated from Hashem! We can say to you neither bad nor good’.” (24:50)

R’ Yitzchak ben Yosef z”l (13th-14th century; Spain) writes: Even though it was against Lavan’s nature to do so, he and his father recognized the “coincidence” that happened to Eliezer as a great miracle. Therefore they said, “The matter originated from Hashem,” thinking that the design of the test for Rivka came to Eliezer through prophecy.

R’ Yitzchak adds: The Torah describes in minute detail how Eliezer related the entire episode to Rivka’s family to emphasize that Eliezer did not exaggerate, nor did he withhold any information (except for two minor details that he changed for specific reasons). And, despite the fact that he did not exaggerate, Lavan and Betuel recognized the miracle for what it was. (Peirush R’ Yitzchak ben R’ Yosef Al Ha’Torah)

R’ David Holzer shlita (Miami Beach, Fl.; publisher of the work quoted above) asks: How did Eliezer succeed in convincing two non-believers that what occurred was miraculous? He answers: Eliezer did two things. First, he said (verse 33), “I will not eat until I have spoken my piece.” This indicated to Lavan and Betuel that something so incredible had happened to Eliezer that he had lost interest in any pleasure other than re-telling his story. Second, he began his story by saying (verse 34), “I am Avraham’s slave.” This showed that he sought no personal glory from telling his story.

R’ Holzer adds: This explains the structure of the Pesach seder. We read the haggadah before the meal to impress upon our children how incredible the story of the Exodus is. Also, we begin with our “disgrace” (“Originally, our ancestors were idolators”) to emphasize that the glory in the story of the Exodus is not ours, but Hashem’s alone. (Va’yosef David)

Zemirot Shabbat

“Yishlach malacho le’fanai / May He send his angel before me as an accompanying escort.” (From the zemer Chai Hashem U’baruch Tzuri)

Commentaries note that this phrase is paraphrased from Avraham’s promise to Eliezer in our parashah (24:7), “Hashem, Elokim of heaven, Who took me from the house of my father and from the land of my birth, Who spoke concerning me, and Who swore to me saying, ‘To your offspring will I give this land,’ Hu yishlach malacho le’fanecha / He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there.”

In context, the zemer appears to be alluding to the Gemara (Shabbat 119b) which teaches: “Two angels accompany a person home from shul on Friday night–one good, the other bad. When the person comes home and finds the candles lit and the table set, the good angel says, ‘May it be so next week as well,’ and the bad angel is forced to respond, ‘Amen’.”

R’ Shalom Noach Berezovsky z”l (1911-2000; the Slonimer Rebbe) asks: How can a ‘bad angel’ accompany a person out of shul when we are taught that mitzvot create ‘good angels’ and sins create ‘bad angels’?

He explains: Shabbat has two aspects–“Zachor / Remember” (Shmot 20:8) and “Shamor / Keep” (Devarim 5:12). “Zachor” is an affirmative commandment. It refers to reciting kiddush, but more generally, it includes all pleasurable aspects of Shabbat. “Shamor,” on the other hand, is a negative commandment that enjoins us to not work on Shabbat. More generally, “Shamor” demands that we uproot any bad within us.

Of course, writes the Slonimer Rebbe, both of these aspects are found within Shabbat, but which is primary? This is a subject of debate between the so-called “good angel” and “bad angel.” The former asserts that the primary means of serving Hashem is to do good, while the latter claims that the primary means of serving Hashem is to uproot bad. The latter angel is called “bad” because he is concerned with our bad deeds, not because he is bad.

This is what the Gemara is teaching: When the two angels enter the house and see the beauty of the Shabbat candles and of the set table, the “good” angel says, “You see! What could be more pleasing to Hashem than this? Let this person observe Shabbat in this way next week as well.” And, seeing the radiance of the Shabbat table, even the “bad” angel is forced to admit that “Zachor” is indeed the most beautiful focus of Shabbat.

Midrash Rabbah states: “Lest you think that I (G-d) gave you Shabbat to your detriment [literally: ‘for your bad’], know that this is not so. I gave it to you for your good!” Could anyone think that Shabbat is bad for us? R’ Berezovsky explains that this midrash is teaching the same lesson as stated above: The primary observance of Shabbat is to grow through doing good, not to focus on eradicating sin. It is not “for (because of) our bad.” (Netivot Shalom: Moadim p. 24)