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Wondrous Wonderment

By: Rav Jonathan Bailey

Once Avraham’s servant settles down at the well, he turns to God and sets up a formula through which He can identify the correct girl the servant is searching for. The primary sign will be that once the servant asks for water, the girl not only gives him to drink but then, on her own volition, also offers to give his camels water. And if this sign is actualized, then, the servant declares, he will know that, ‘God has chosen [the right girl] for Yitzchak and performed a kindness for Avraham’. And, on cue, even before the servant had finished speaking, Rivkah enters the picture and the rest is history.


However, what remains puzzling in this episode is the servant’s subsequent reaction to Rivkah’s actions. For, after she gives him to drink, offers water to his camels and then even gives them the water they need (the exact signs the servant has established!) the Torah states:


“And the man watched the girl, silent [literally ‘speechless’, i.e. in wonderment] whether God would make his journey successful or not.”


The obvious question is: how could the servant still be wondering? The signs that he created for God have been carried out, to the last drop! He asked, she gave; then, by her own volition, offered his camels to drink too! What more did the servant need? Was he totally missing the outright signs? Was he purposefully ignoring them?[1]


Interestingly, there are two textual aberrations that stand out in this pasuk: 1) he is called “äàéù” where previously he has only been referred to as “äòáã” and 2) the servant stands agape, wondering ‘if God will make his journey successful or not’ a concern which he had never previously mentioned. Formerly, he stated his desire for God’s intervention concerning His providing ‘the right bride for Yitzchak’ and ‘delivering the kindness to Avraham’ - specific issues within the context of the larger mission. Why, suddenly, are   we only now told about his doubt in God’s involvement regarding a previously unmentioned, more general concern?


How do we understand the significance of these two blatant changes, specifically in light of their presence in this enigmatic pasuk? And how will this understanding resolve our larger difficulty?


When the servant now wonders about this ‘new’ issue - whether God will make his journey successful - we’re being told that this hopeful expectation of God’s positive involvement now needed to extend beyond the mere necessity of identifying the right girl for Yitzchak and the kindness for Avraham it would serve to express. For, the proof for those concerns had been provided already - by Rivkah’s offer to give him and his camels water - he doesn’t question God’s assistance in that limited context anymore, he defined the signs and they were immediately provided. He is not blind and is not purposefully ignoring the blatant God-given response.  Rather, the servant now has the rest of the journey to take care of: i.e. convincing the family to allow her to leave so that he can return with this Perfect bride. It is concerning this, entire ‘journey’ in which he now wonders whether God will similarly assist positively.


And how does the new “àéù” label fit into this idea? A consistent literary device throughout TaNaKH is the use of the label “àéù” when the actual person isn’t as important for the Torah’s message as the actions he performs or the context he finds himself within. For example, the “àéù” that suddenly finds Yosef on his way to find his brothers or the one who mysteriously appears to wrestle with Yaakov on the way to confront Esav - both are introduced merely as “àéù” for they are to be understood as being only as important as the roles they will play for the characters they interact with[2]. Sometimes, however, this device is used somewhat differently - although with similar results - when the subject’s name/personage is already known but the text changes his label temporarily to “àéù”. In Breishit 26:13 we are told of Yitzchak’s ‘miraculous’ wealth while residing in Gerar; in this one pasuk he is labeled “àéù” despite the fact that the pasuk immediately before he was called Yitzchak, and will be called by that name throughout the rest of his following story. Similarly, in Breishit 30:43, despite the fact that the name Yaakov is used before and after, in this pasuk, he is labeled “àéù” - again, in the context of describing his wealth. What both these exceptional contexts have in common is that the wealth which each “àéù” is described as receiving is specifically attributed to God’s blessing or advice, respectively. In other words, the Torah wanted us to know that the wealth they received was specifically not from their, personal actions (i.e. not through actions of ‘Yitzchak’ and ‘Yaakov’, the independent people) but rather through God’s facilitation (and they are to be considered ‘merely’ unlabeled, nonspecific “àðùéí”, passive vehicles of God’s direct involvement)[3]. So too, in this case, although the servant was called “äòáã” up until this point, in this pasuk, he is ‘strangely’ given the label “äàéù”; because, following the understanding of the previous examples, we are given to appreciate that this servant is now to be seen not as playing (merely) the role of Avraham’s servant but rather having now become a vehicle of a God-involved larger plan, a servant of a greater Master’s mission.


Putting these two ideas together, the meaning of this pasuk would be understood as follows: at this point, with the right girl provided for, the servant of Avraham now waits to see whether God will make the entire journey successful - and the text hints to us that God will similarly grant this success too, as expressed through the servant’s new label of “äàéù”; he has now become a servant on the God-directed, larger mission. And this is why he is labeled “äàéù” from now until Lavan and Betuel readily agree to the servant’s request to take Rivkah, declaring, ‘this thing has come from God’! The wonderment expressed here, in our pasuk, is actually only ultimately satisfied when the entire mission is complete - at the point when the family agrees to let her go! And immediately after this Divinely-attributed accomplishment of his entire mission, the Torah reports that specifically the òáãprostrated himself to God!


However, this ‘God-driven journey’s success’’ statement is again used, one last time: the next morning when Rivkah’s family refuse her immediate send-off, thus nullifying the servant’s mission’s success. How does the servant respond? ‘Don’t hold me back, for God has made my journey successful’! He does not argue ‘for God has already provided the bride for Yitzchak’, nor does he say ‘for God has already delivered a kindness to Avraham’; but rather, they can’t hold him back and deny his entire mission’s success because God has already provided it - the very assistance he waited for at the well and finally received affirmation of when they had agreed the previous day. And when herself Rivkah agrees to go, thus completing his mission ‘again’, the Torah states, ‘she and her maidservants rise, ride upon the camels with the man[4], and the servant took Rivkah and went’. Once successful in his Divinely blessed journey, he again returns to the label of “äòáã”, Avraham’s devoted servant, returning home with the perfect bride for his master’s son.


The last question that must be answered is why do we need to understand this? Why is it important that the Torah inform us that of this significant transformation which occurred during the servant’s journey? Why is it important to appreciate that he changed from being specifically Avraham’s servant (“äòáã”), to become God’s servant (“äàéù”), and then returned to his original status of Avraham’s servant (“äòáã”) when his mission was ultimately complete?


The key is appreciating the second time he is ‘transformed’ into God’s servant: after Rivkah’s family accept the servant’s offer (he is labeled (“äòáã”) for his mission is supposedly completed), they then refuse the next morning, and with his mission once again unaccomplished, he is once again labeled “äàéù”. And it is in this context, specifically as God’s servant, that Rivkah, herself, agrees to go, following the servant back to Avraham’s land and her new life with Yitzchak to become the partner in establishing the next link in the Avraham-Brit Ben Habtarim legacy. At the very moment she accepts her own call of “ìê ìê[5], we are told that the servant she is following is truly God’s servant, representing God and His mission. Every significant role-player in God’s ultimate national Plan was specifically called on by God to step-up and assume their responsibility within that Divine future: God directly appeared to Avraham in the beginning of Lekh Lekha and charged him with “ìê ìê”; Sarah willingly followed. Yaakov tells Leah and Rachel that an angel told him that God has demanded his return to the Land of his birth; Yaakov’s wives immediately respond by saying, ‘anything that God has told you, do’[6]. And here, concerning Rivkah, only because of the Torah’s description of the servant’s ‘transformation’, can we appreciate that Rivkah, too, received and affirmatively answered her own Divine call to assume her responsibility in His plan!

[1] One textually significant approach is that the Torah is using a split-screen narrative voice. To be read as: ‘and while the girl was performing these actions, the man waited, wondering’ - i.e the actions hadn’t been completed yet, so there was ‘still time’ to wonder. This definitely fits into the extra ‘vav’ placed at the beginning of the pasuk; the extra ‘and the man watched the girl’, being read as ‘and meanwhile’. However, this approach is still somewhat problematic because there were better places in which to insert this puzzling line. The girl offers him to drink,and then the Torah reports that she then gave him the water beforeshe offers his camels too (the Divine sign). If the Torah wanted us to switch back and forth between the two characters, it could have placed his bewilderment right then, while she’s drawing water for and giving it to him, before she then states the significant voluntary offer of water for the camels. ‘And the servant waited to see if she would then fulfill the second half’ - and when she does, Eureka!

[2] Which is why the common midrashic approach to explaining these mysterious ‘men’ is to label them as angels; i.e. not of this world but rather messengers of a higher purpose, advancing a Larger storyline.

[3] See also Shmuel 1 1:3.

[4] Here, he is labeled ‘the man’ from Rivkah’s perspective; but from the Torah’s perspective, he remains ‘the servant’.

[5] Not only is it extraordinary and strange to have had a girl asked her opinion to begin with, but, when she is called in, she only says one single word in this entire episode - “àìê”!

[6] Yitzchak, of course, is told by God to specifically stay in Eretz Yisrael in order to actualize his role as the next link in the Chain; he is never ‘outside’ of his role, and therefore never receives his call to ‘enter’ it.


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