Avraham teaches us to look past the veneer of people’s indiscretions, and see the holy and righteous DNA under the surface!
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is “Chayei Sara” (Genesis 23:1–25:18) and it is action packed! We have the death of Sara, the purchase of Machpelah cave, finding a wife for Isaac, the death of Abraham, the death of Ishmael, and more!
In this column I would like to focus on the search for a wife for Isaac. Avraham entrusts the task to his loyal servant, Eliezer, whom he sends off to find a wife for Isaac. Avraham tells him, “[D]o not take a wife for Isaac from the daughters of the Canaanites in whose midst we live, but rather, go to my land and to my relatives and take a wife for my son Isaac.” (Genesis 24:3-4)
The commentaries discuss at lenghth the detail that Isaac’s future wife must come from Avraham’s own family and not from the Canaanites. But the question is asked: Why is this so? What’s the difference if the girl is from the land Canaan or Avraham’s own family back in Ur? Both the Canaanites, as well as Avraham’s family, were idol-worshipers! So what’s the difference?
It is explained that even though the eligible girls from Avraham’s family were also idolaters they nevertheless were people of fine character traits, upstanding, and honest. The Canaanites, on the other hand, in addition to being idolaters, were also immoral, dishonest, and untrustworthy.
What a powerful message! We must value others even if their religious beliefs are unlike our own, as long as they are good people.
But here’s the problem with this answer. As we see in the verses that follow, the members of Avraham’s family that Eliezer happens upon, and from whom he is forced to request Rebecca’s hand in marriage for Isaac, were crooks! From both Scripture and Midrash, we learn that they were liars and cheaters! So why did Avraham presume that the members of his family were of high moral character?
Among the answers given is that Avraham was not totally off. The members of his family whom Eliezer met, namely Lavan and Betuel, had it in their genes and in their DNA to truly be good people. The problem, however, was that they lived among people of unsavory character.
In fact, they too wanted to adopt monotheism and reject idolatry as Avraham had done, but they didn’t have the backbone to stand up to the people around them. They didn’t want to be different. Not when it came to religion and not when it came to matters of character. They went along with the flow, and due to habit, they indeed appeared no better than anyone else. The good genes got buried deep down.
And this is why Avraham still insisted that Eliezer go to his family to find a wife for Isaac. He knew that they were no better than anyone else, but he also knew what their potential was. The Canaanites had no such potential. Avraham’s family did.
Off you go, Eliezer. Eliezer then finds Rebecca, a young girl, who in addition to having the best DNA possible, was too young to have been influenced by her family’s evil ways. And with that, the Jewish people were born.
And this is what we all have to look for in a spouse: A good DNA! Someone with the potential to be a good spouse and a good parent. That was Rebecca, the matriarch of the Jewish people.
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.
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