10/24/2013

Shabbat Chayey Sara

Candles 5:40 pm
Havdalah 6:35 pm

Avraham sends his manager, Eliezer of Damascus, to go back to his home town to find a wife for Isaac. The Torah actually gives three significantly different versions of what happened. It’s a bit like “She said” “He said.” First of all Avraham calls in Eliezer and gives him instructions. Then Eliezer amplifies those instructions and makes his own decision on the spot. And finally in telling the story of what happened to Rivkah’s family, he changes some details as well. What is going on here? Which version was the truth? The answer is that all of them contain aspects of the truth. Truth like history, often depends on who sees what when.

Avraham gave instructions that were brief and the point. But he left out some obvious issues. He didn’t say anything about the character of the girl, only her background. Does this mean it didn’t matter to him? Of course not and Eliezer realized that behind Abrahams instructions there was a far deeper issue of being a moral, God fearing person. When Eliezer gets to meet her family and realizes that they are motivated by other considerations, he modified his narrative to win their approval. Does this mean he was dishonest or that the Torah condones white lies? Not at all! It is just that we all see things from different angles with different priorities. Very often to achieve what we want or to persuade someone, we need to find the right way of conveying our intent. The way you present something is as important as the message itself.

Any agent if he is to succeed must try to understand more than just the instructions. He must try to gauge what is really needed in any particular situation and what is really wanted. The Torah recognizes that people are different, their values differ as do their capacities and motives. This narrative highlights these differences and tells us that if we want to succeed we must be prepared to look at things from very different angles and determine what the priorities are.