Chaye Sarah – Seeking Character

The narrative of Abraham’s servant seeking a wife for Isaac is curious, and it offers many insights into the characters of all involved. A couple of such insights follow:

Abraham specifically sent his servant back to Haran, to the very place from which the Almighty had directed him to relocate. The commentaries relate that Abraham didn’t want to incorporate into his family anyone from the Canaanite population, as they were descendants of Canaan and bore the curse that Noah had imposed upon them. Other explanations are given as well. But why did Abraham specifically seek in Haran?

One reason we could imagine is that he wished to keep it in the family. A marriage is seen as an act of kindness to the other and Abraham likely felt that his first recipient of kindness should be his own extended family. The Ktav Sofer, however, offers another suggestion. When Abraham took his household with him from Haran to Canaan the verse tells us that he took along also “the souls they had made in Haran.” (Genesis 12:5) Rashi cites the Midrash which interprets this to allude to all the converts to monotheism Abraham and Sarah had influenced. They had made a great impact on their former society of Haran, although in Canaan we find no reference to such influence. Perhaps the people of Canaan were more set in their ways and less impressionable. Abraham therefore directed his servant to go to Haran, a place where he knew people were impressionable, in order to seek Isaac’s life partner. He didn’t want to take his chances elsewhere and it was crucial to him that the woman serving as the bearer of his offspring be someone who can be inspired to live a godly life.

Later on, when Abraham’s servant arrived at the well in Haran, he paused to observe the girls drawing water. He stipulated a condition that only such a girl who would respond to his request for a drink by offering also to water his camels would qualify as a bride for Isaac. The Midrash relates that when Rebeca approached the well to draw water she did not need to lower the pail down. The water rose to her service. When Abraham’s servant observed that miracle he took his chances of asking her for a drink, hoping that she would meet his stipulated conditions, which she did. Rabbi Eliezer Shach poses the question why the miracle was not sufficient evidence that she was a righteous girl and suited for Isaac? Why did the servant have to pursue his pre-stated conditions after witnessing this miracle?

Rav Shach explains that miracles do not provide evidence of a person’s character. Abraham’s servant was tasked to find a girl suitable for merging with Abraham’s family. The ready kindness that was practiced in Abraham’s home had to be in her nature as well. A miracle worker can at the same time be a self-centered and destructive individual. The servant therefore needed to continue and expose Rebeca’s character to determine that she had a sweet nature to go along with all her other qualities.

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