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Shabbat Parashat Chayei Sarah 5773

Parashat Hashavua: Homeland Purification

Harav Yosef Carmel

After the account of the burial of Sarah, the Torah turns to the matter of Avraham’s search for a wife for their son, Yitzchak. Let us focus on different elements of Avraham’s instructions to his servant Eliezer, who was charged with the task to bring back the right girl from his family in Aram (Bereishit 24:2-8). Avraham made Eliezer put his hand by Avraham’s thigh (a reference to his private parts) and swear that he would not take a Canaanite woman for Yitzchak. Eliezer asked, if the right woman would not be willing to come to the Land of Canaan, whether Yitzchak would go to live in her place. Avraham responded that Hashem, who took him from his land and his father’s house, would bring Eliezer success in his mission, but that in any case Yitzchak could not leave.

One unusual thing is the manner in which the oath was taken. We can also ask why Avraham was so against a woman from the Canaanites, if a fine one could be found. Another strange thing is Avraham’s stressing that Hashem had told Avraham to leave his homeland to go to the Land of Canaan. Finally we can ask why Eliezer thought that Avraham might agree to Yitzchak leaving the land, an idea that Avraham rejected strongly.

The Land of Canaan, to which Avraham was told to move, was originally given to the descendants of Cham, whereas Avraham was a descendant of Shem. The difference between the sons of Noach found expression after Noach lay drunk in his tent. Cham and his son Canaan took the opportunity to defile Noach in some type of sexual context (there are different explanations as to what exactly happened). Shem acted with great concern for his father’s modesty. As a result, Noach cursed Cham’s family and blessed Shem, stressing the beauty of the tents of Shem.

Avraham, the choice descendant of Shem, taught the world that, in order to have a relationship with Hashem, one must overcome his evil inclination and remain pure. By doing so, his descendants would be able to turn the Land of Canaan into the Land of Israel, which is known for its purity (Mikvaot 8:1). On the other hand, going to the Land of Canaan entails spiritual dangers, introduced into the land by the descendants of Canaan. Avraham’s solution to the challenge was to ensure that the matriarchs of the burgeoning nation would always be from the choice, blessed women of Shem.

The symbol of the triumph over the evil inclination is the brit mila. That is why Avraham made Eliezer swear in a manner that connected the commitment to the brit. By invoking, during his instructions to find the next matriarch, the divine command to move to the Land of Canaan, Avraham was stressing that the mission was a major part of the effort to turn Eretz Canaan into Eretz Yisrael.

Eliezer had a different understanding. He thought that Avraham might have had enough of struggling with the corrupt ways of the land and decided that his son would do well to return to the place of Avraham’s broader family. Therefore, Avraham stressed that, in the merit of the brit mila, he and his offspring would be capable of handling the challenge and of transforming the land.

Let us pray that we will succeed in building a society in Eretz Yisrael that is dedicated to the value of modesty in all its meanings (but not necessarily by creating separations where they are not halachically required). In that way, we will be able to create proper Jewish families.

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