We know that the Torah is famously sparse when it comes to details – often we jump in a narrative and can’t help but wonder what happened in between. Or we read a very concise version of what could be a much longer story. But in today’s parsha, CHAYAY Sarah, Eliezer, right-hand man of Avraham, gives us a very detailed description of how he came to the home of Laban to find a wife for Isaac. How important is that description? We have to assume that it’s very important, since it’s so long and drawn out. But what’s really remarkable is that Eliezer tells the story TWICE. And he tells it in almost exactly the same way each time. But for the spelling of ONE WORD.
In the first iteration of the story, Eliezer repeats what he has said to Avraham: “Perhaps (OOLAI) the woman will not follow me?” He’s wondering what he should do if that is the case. The Hebrew word in this sentence is spelled with a Vav, rendering it unable to be read as anything other than oolai, that is, maybe, perhaps. But when he recounts the dialogue with Lavan later, the Hebrew word is spelled without a Vav, rendering it possible to be pronounced aylye, to me.
So—of course—we have to have a midrash here. The rabbis tell us that the two different word forms for perhaps or maybe make clear that Eliezer is ambivalent about going to find a wife for Isaac. Why would that be? He’s the faithful servant of Abraham, and has never declined to do as he instructs. The reason, according to tradition, is that Eliezer himself had a daughter. He was hoping that Avraham would give his approval for Isaac to marry the daughter to Eliezer. So, the second telling is the CLUE—if the word could be read as TO ME, perhaps Eliezer is hinting to Avraham that Isaac could just as easily be a member of HIS family. But Rashi tells us that Eliezer was a descendant of Canaan who had been cursed by Noach, so one who is accursed cannot marry one who is blessed.
So, there is no possibility that Avraham would accept Eliezer’s daughter for Isaac. And that teaches us that ONE WORD can make a WORLD OF DIFFERENCE.
Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום.
Rabbi David Grossman
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