Politics & Parsha: Chayei Sarah 5771

Posted on October 29, 2010 In Archives

Each week IPA Deputy Director of Public Policy Howie Beigelman takes a look at the weekly parsha and discusses it in a way you may never have seen. Any hashkafic, halachic or political opinions are personal and do not reflect the official psak or policy of the OU.

Taking No For An Answer

“The working world would be a happier place if more of us aspired to roles that were just right — if we valued job fit and performance at every level and stopped overemphasizing the very top.” – Nancy Lublin, the founder of Dress for Success and CEO of DoSomething

As Abraham lists out the mission for Eliezer, there’s some push back. At least that’s how the commentaries read it when Eliezer asks, what if I find the perfect match but she won’t come back with me? He wasn’t simply asking for permission to return home. He was implying, suggesting, and hoping that Abraham would be amenable to his own daughter becoming a bride to Isaac.

And Abraham shoots it down, with gusto.

Eliezer, the “always & ever” faithful servant of Abraham could be forgiven for feeling shorted. He is after all, the master of all that Abraham owns. He is the go to man for every difficult and dangerous task. Abraham needs to mount a commando rescue operation of Lot and the kings, he taps Eliezer. Someone needs to accompany Abraham & Isaac to the akeidah, and Eliezer is one of two who get picked. And when Abraham needs someone to find the perfect wife for Isaac, Eliezer, to no surprise, gets the nod.

Now, when the angelic, otherworldly Isaac needs a wife, Abraham commands Eliezer to travel far afield to a godless, dangerous land. The family from whom Abraham had hoped he’d find the right match indeed has a daughter who agrees to marry Isaac. On his way to getting her back to Canaan, Eliezer is almost murdered by the bride’s thieving father and brother. Her family then conspires to attempt to keep her from leaving.

For this Abraham passed over a young lady who grew up in his orbit, drank of his wisdom and learned firsthand of his ethics, hospitality and righteousness? Eliezer, faithful Sam Gamgee to Abraham was being treated like a crooked Wormtongue.

But Eliezer does not rebel or revolt. He accepts his master’s plan, and his command. He heads to the well, and prays to G-d, say the commentaries, not that G-d ought answer Abraham – of that Eliezer was sure; but that he, Eliezer, should prove worthy as the shaliach, intermediary of G-d’s affirmative response.

Once at Besuel’s home, he won’t take food or water until he has fulfilled his charge. Even as he demands their answer, he tells them of his plan B – to go left to Lot’s children or right, towards Ishmael. Never does he consider asking Abraham to reconsider. The next morning as Laban again tries to deter Rivkah, Eliezer brooks no delay. Send me to my master now, he demands!

Despite the greatest personal interest in seeing his mission fail & despite ample proof of the family’s unworthiness to join Abraham’s, Eliezer never wavers in his mission. He gives up his own, lifelong dream, and fights tenaciously to see his master’s word fulfilled.

In the Peter Principle someone is always promoted to the level of their incompetence. But imagine a world where people took “no” and mulled it over to see if there was merit in it. Imagine a world where people didn’t try to do the next job, but to excel at their own. Where Members of Congress or the State Legislature understood their role vs. that of the Executive – and where, for instance, they didn’t attempt to influence foreign policy or worry that the President was running the military; that is after all, his job. The Constitution says so. Imagine if the Executives let courts interpret the law without reprisal.

Eliezer didn’t try to be someone else. He tried to be the very best servant to Abraham that he could. As the conversation the commentaries allude to shows, he was neither silent nor unthinking. But he did know his place – in a good way.

Perhaps we all can learn to be the best in our role – at work, at home, and in the community.

Words to consider, ideas to ponder – politics & the parsha.