July 19, 2024
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In the middle section of this week’s parsha, Avraham orders his trusted servant (who our Sages inform us was Eliezer) to journey and find a suitable wife for Yitzchak. The Torah then describes the story in great detail, as the servant sets out on his journey, holds a discussion with Hashem, witnesses the successful test, presents Rivka with gifts, blesses Hashem and returns with her to her home to finalize the arrangement (Bereishit 24:1–32).

As Eliezer arrives at Rivka’s home, we then read the whole story and details of the test again as he retells the events to her family (Bereishit 24:33–49). Why does the Torah include Eliezer’s retelling of the story when we have just read the entire narrative in great detail? Many of the Torah’s fundamental halachic principles are taught almost incidentally, in great brevity or with hints. Why does this servant’s repetition of a story we have just read deserve such attention?

In explanation of this seeming lack of balance, Rabbi Acha taught in the midrash:

“The chatter of the servants of the forefathers is better before Hashem than the Torah of their children (descendants), for Eliezer’s passage is repeated in the Torah, and many of the Torah’s fundamentals were only taught with hints” (Bereishit Rabbah 60:8).

Whilst we can understand the observation which led to this conclusion, what is the reasoning behind it?

My rosh yeshiva, HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l, explained that the Torah has two ways of showing us how to behave. The first one is formulated as commandments, expressed through directions of how to behave and how not to. The second is expressed through people, whose deeds, behavior and lifestyles give us direction. Sometimes, the presentation of a living example influences and guides far more successfully than the formulation of direction through commandments.

Rabbi Acha’s rule comes to teach us that the example of a living role model, who embodies and represents the letter and spirit of the Torah can be a far more influential educational tool than learning the technical commandments and details alone. If this is true of the servants of our forefathers, how much more so is there to learn from the examples set for us by our forefathers themselves.

Whilst our educational systems place great focus on technical content, how much focus do they place on providing role models who personify Torah and Torah values? Beyond learning the dos and don’ts of Judaism, it is essential that our pupils (whether they be children, students or adults) have exposure to living examples who embody the Torah they teach.

On an individual level, whether we like it or not, we are all educators. Regardless of our individual level of observance, there will always be people who look up to us as representatives of Judaism, whether from inside or outside the faith. In addition to paying attention to our technical performance of Torah, we must ensure that our “chatter,” everyday behavior and lifestyles suitably reflect our positions as representatives of Torah and ambassadors of Hashem.


Rabbi Danny Mirvis is deputy CEO of World Mizrachi, and rabbi of Ohel Moshe Synagogue in Herzliya Pituach.

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