Sunday, November 19, 2006

Thoughts on Chayei Sarah

In last week's parshah, Eliezer goes to Haran to find a wife for Yitzchak. At first he is unsure how to find the right person. But once he decides on a strategy and prays to God for success, everything works out very quickly. The first girl he meets (just as he finishes praying) turns out to not only have the desired character traits, but also to be from Yitzchak's very own family. Eliezer knows how unlikely these coincidences are, and realizes that God has answered his prayer with a hidden miracle. He is very excited, and bows down and thanks God.

When Rivkah's family is told, they too are very excited. "This has come from God... here is Rivkah, take her and go, that she may marry your master's son!" (Breishit 24:50-51). But the next day, as Eliezer prepares to leave, something has changed. Rivkah's family now asks that she stay for a while before leaving (anywhere from a few days to ten years, depend on how you translate their request). It seems they do not want the marriage after all, and are looking for an excuse to delay it as much as possible.

In the encounter between Eliezer and Rivkah's family, Eliezer is clearly the righteous person, while Rivkah's family is less than righteous. This is reflected in their actions, but not in the way you might expect. The difference between righteous and mediocre people is not whether they have intense spiritual experiences. After all Rivkah's family reacted just as positively to the initial miracle as did Eliezer. But their spiritual experience was short-lived. By the very next day, the miracle had passed from their minds and stopped influencing their calculations. Rivkah's family is not considered righteous, because the miracle had no long-term affect on them. This is perhaps a lesson for those of us today who seek spiritual experiences. Ultimately such experiences are wasted, unless we internalize them and make sure they affect us after the feelings of spirituality and wonder have passed.

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