Sometimes the Torah is so stingy with words, and sometimes it goes on and on… We know close to nothing about Abraham’s first 75 years, but the longest chapter in the Torah is dedicated to one afternoon in the life of his servant. And not only do we hear of every detail in the meeting between the servant and Rivkah, Isaac’s future wife, but the whole story also repeats word for word just a few verses later, when the servant retells it all to Rivkah’s family.
Well, word for word – almost, and davka because of the scarcity of words in the Torah, those details and that repetition can shed some light on a few insights.
For example, when the Torah tells the story about their meeting at the well, it says that the servant gave her the golden jewelry, and only then asked her, who she is and who is her family (Genesis 24:22-23). But, when he told her brother and father what happened, he says: “Then I asked her, saying, whose daughter are you?… then I put the ring… and bracelets… (24:47).
Why change the order? There is a statement in the Talmud: “… just like it is a mitzvah to say something that will be (or can be) heard, so it is a mitzvah to not say something that can’t be heard (Yevamot 65,2)
אמר רבי אילעא משום רבי אלעזר ברבי שמעון:
כשם שמצווה על אדם לומר דבר הנשמע, כך מצווה על אדם שלא לומר דבר שאינו נשמע” (יבמות ס”ה ב’).
Commentaries suggest that Abraham’s servant changes the order of things because he knows that those around him wouldn’t be able to hear nor share in his excitement – finding a wife for Isaac per his master’s request, and so, he prefers to tell the story in a way that would make sense to his listeners, even if slightly rearranged to their liking.
In doing so, the servant shows great sensitivity and wisdom, which – some say – he learned from Abraham, teaching us how important our immediate environment is. Rivkah knew that too, and therefore when her family asked her, will go with this man? She said, I will, as if she knew that she, like her future father (and mother) in law, needs to leave home and travel far in order to really become who she is called to be.
The chapter also gives us a quick intro into the next couple of the Torah: she is lively, beautiful, kind, caring, out-going; she’s social, street smart, and has initiative. We meet him walking in the field at dusk, alone, meditating. He should have been the one traveling with a convoy of camels to bring her home! He, who according to tradition was already 40, should have been the one asking his father for a wife, making a minimal effort! But he doesn’t.
Some say, he was traumatized at the binding, and of course, the binding “didn’t help”, but a careful read reveals that he was passive long before the binding. His mother fought his battles against his brother; his father decided on him as potential sacrifice. Indeed, Isaac is very different from him father, who rose against his own father. Isaac is different – and lucky for us, he is, because if Isaac was like Abraham, and “smashed the gods” he found in his father’s home, there wouldn’t be Jews in the world today.
But let us not mistake his passivity for weakness, for he will exhibit his own kind of strength next week, digging and re-digging his father’s wells.
For now, he is happy with Rivkah. She is nothing like him, and so very perfect for him. And at the end of the chapter, we come across another verse which might look to us mixed-up: “And Isaac brought her (Rivkah) into the tent of Sarah, his mother; he married Rivkah and she became his wife, and he loved her, and then Isaac was comforted after his mother(‘s passing)” (Genesis 24:67). First marriage, then love? This might be surprising in our society, but then, Isaac and Rivkah are also the only couple among our forefathers who doesn’t add a maidservant, a second wife, no one else, in spite of challenges that threaten to tear them apart. Again, the Torah is scarce when sharing information about their life, and some say that is because except for a couple of incidences we’ll hear about next week, their life together was set right from the start and they lived ‘happily ever after’ together.