Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Halacha versus Middos:Understanding Eliezer's process of identifying Yitzhok's future wife

I have been spending a lot of time trying to understanding the distinction between halacha and middos.  Dr. Benny Brown's article  has been very helpful.

With this context I noticed what seems to be a discrepancy between the Torah description of G-d's designating or chosing Rivka as Yitzchok's future wife - and Rashi's explanation that she was fit to be because of her midos.  [Of course this is also tied up with the issue of whether Eliezer was praying for G-d's assistance or whether he was using prohibited divination.]
The language of the Torah is that the woman who gives water to Eliezer and his camels it הֹכַחְתָּ; which means to prove, to appoint, to admonish, to instruct, chose, selected, indicated. All of which indicates something similar to psak - there is one correct answer. Thus there is no inherent relationship between the process Eliezer chose and the results. This is why Chullin 95b says that Eliezer was using Divination to find a wife for Yitzchok. An omen which is not after the form pronounced by Eliezer, Abraham's servant, or by Jonathan the son of Saul, is not considered a divination

Bereishis (24:14) says  And let it come to pass, that the girl to whom I shall say, Let down your water jar, I beg you, that I may drink; and she shall say, Drink, and I will give your camels drink also; let the same be she whom you have appointed (or designated) for your servant Isaac; and thereby shall I know that You have shown kindness to my master.
ספר בראשית פרק כד
(יד) וְהָיָה הַנַּעֲרָ אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיהָ הַטִּי נָא כַדֵּךְ וְאֶשְׁתֶּה וְאָמְרָה שְׁתֵה וְגַם גְּמַלֶּיךָ אַשְׁקֶה אֹתָהּ הֹכַחְתָּ לְעַבְדְּךָ לְיִצְחָק וּבָהּ אֵדַע כִּי עָשִׂיתָ חֶסֶד עִם אֲדֹנִי:

In contrast Rashi says [Rav Chavell's translation ] . HER THOU HAST APPOINTED FOR THY SERVANT, EVEN FOR ISAAC. Rashi comments: "She is fit for him since she is charitable and worthy of admission into the house of Abraham."

According to Rashi the process is inherently related to the results. She has to show the proper midos of chesed and kindness. Rashi uses a different term "fitting" or "appropriate". then the Torah and he asserts that the Torah is saying that if she passes this test of midos it will show that G-d will approve of her.

רש"י על בראשית פרק כד פסוק יד
(יד) אותה הוכחת - ראויה היא לו שתהא גומלת חסדים וכדאי ליכנס בביתו של אברהם ולשון הוכחת ביררת אפרוביש"ט בלע"ז (דו האסט בעשיעדען):

In sum, Torah expresses that the test or sign that Eliezer is using will determine the woman that G-d has already designated for Yitzhok. There is only one correct answer. On the other hand Rashi is clearly saying that the critical concern is that she have the midos (values) that make her fitting for Yitzchok and therefore he will test her middos. Even if she passes the midos test it is a necessary but not sufficient condition to be Yitzhok's wife. There are many women who can pass the test. She also has to be from Avraham's family and he hopes that G-d will help out by having a family member take and pass the test. Thus Rashi is best understood as praying for assistance from G-d in a process which is rational and task related. It is is not divination at all.

1 comment :

  1. I don't see the contradiction between the Gemara's understanding of Eliezer's actions/sign, and Rashi's understanding.

    If we use a comparative case the Gemara mentions in relation to this case. Yiftach wanted to bring an offering/Korban - where he shows no inhibitions. He's willing to give the best - whichever one Hashem wants him to give! So he made a sign through which Yiftach assumed Hashem will show him which animal to sacrifice. Yiftach was wrong, as Hashem didn't choose to show him which one to bring (or, Hashem wanted to afford him the opportunity to acquire more humility, which had he had that humility - he would not have made that sign).
    Eliezer wanted to find Yitzchok a suitable wife. So he chose a demonstration of a requisite quality that a Yitzchok's future spouse must have. However, as you mentioned, others - who are unsuitable - may have that quality as well. But Eliezer relied on this sign, that Hashem will send the right one to him, out at the well, at that specific time.

    I'm not sure I can see a discrepancy between the Gemara's and Rashi's account as to what Eliezer did. .


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