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Parshat Chayei Sarah (5761)
Most of this week’s section is devoted to relating in great detail and with much repetition, the story of how the Patriarch Avraham sent his servant Eliezer on a matchmaking mission and how he succeeded.
Why does the Torah go into such great length here, what is so important about this story?
I would like to explain by telling another story.
Over 150 years ago in Russia there lived a scholar called Rav Yosef. He was an exceptionally gifted man both in mind and in humility. Not only did he know all of the Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi by heart but he was well versed in the books of law and of Kabala as well.
Now this Rav Yosef was considering applying for the post of Rabbi in several large cities and, being a Chassid of the second Rebbe of Chabad Rebbe Dov Ber, he traveled to Lubavitch to ask for the Rebbe’s blessing and advice. But when he informed the Rebbe of his plan, the latter wasn’t so enthusiastic.
He looked up at Rav Yosef from his desk and said solemnly, “Rav Yosef, if someone gives you the choice of being an important Rabbi, it’s better for you to be a carriage driver.” (Among the least intellectually demanding of jobs.)
Even two days later, when he arrived home and told his wife what the Rebbe said, he himself still hadn’t exactly absorbed it.
“If so”, she said, “You must go down to the wagon drivers and ask their advice.”
“Advice on what?” he asked.
“Advice on what type of carriage to buy. How much it will cost. How long it will take to learn.” She answered.
But Rav Yosef was still in ‘neutral’, he just shook his head in agreement every time his wife mentioned it, and went back to learning Talmud or something else and the time passed.
Then about a month later a group of distinguished looking Jews knocked at Rav Yosef’s door, entered, and officially offered him the prestigious job as the Rabbi of the city Minsk, and announced that they would give him a weekto think about it.
Of course, as soon as they closed the door behind them, his wife reminded her husband that now he had no choice other than to finally go talk to the wagon drivers.
So the next morning Rav Yosef put on his fur coat and high boots and made a visit to the stables. At first the drivers thought he was a customer. Then they though he was joking or crazy. But when they saw he was neither, one of the older drivers agreed to show him around, carefully pointing out how each job was difficult, dirty, or dangerous.
After several hours he returned home with a full report to his wife and a conclusion; a carriage cost much more than they could afford, and that was the end of it.
“Yosef!” said his wife emphatically, “are you a Chassid or not? The Rebbe wants you to be a driver. I‘ll sell all my jewellery and our silver Shabbos candle sticks, and that should cover it!”
The next day they sold the jewelry, found a driver to teach him the ropes and even bought a wagon and some horses. Two months later Rav Yosef was one of the carriage drivers.
He accepted his new job with as much joy as he could muster up; he took good care of his horses and his carriage, and the other drivers always helped him and tried to give him the easiest trips.
He also tried to keep himself as holy as possible. While he was driving he would recite the Talmud he knew by heart, and he never began working until he had devoted one hour to the Morning Prayer, but nevertheless his heart was broken inside of him.
One cold winter morning, as he was feeding his horses and getting the carriage ready for the day’s work, a rich-looking, gentile businessman entered the stables and asked him if he was willing to take him to Petersburg.
“That is a two day journey”, answered Rav Yosef. “I’ll gladly take you, but I’m telling you now that I never begin at the crack of dawn. I am a Jew that believes in G-d and every morning I must pray for one hour.”
“Good, Good.” The businessman replied. “Maybe on the second day I’ll get another driver. The main thing is I must travel now. All my suitcases are here and I want to leave as soon as possible.”
Rav Yosef wasted no time hitching up the horses and in fifteen minutes they were on their way.
“Oy” thought Rav Yosef to himself as he was driving some lonely road far from town, “What will become of me? All day I have to look at the backside of these horses. What will become of me?”
That night they stopped at an inn (it was impossible to travel at night) and before they retired the businessman paid him, saying something about maybe finding another driver that would leave early. They shook hands and the innkeeper showed them to their rooms.
Rav Yosef woke, as was his custom, at midnight, washed his hands and began to say Tikkun Chatsos prayer, mourning the Holy Temple.
His heart was broken enough as it was, and when he began thinking of the terrible exile of the Jews the pain was too much to bear, he poured out all of his emotion into the words of the prayers.
When he finished, he opened his Talmud and began learning until the morning when he put on his Tefillin and prayed ‘Shachris’ (the morning prayer).
He had just put his Tefillin back after praying, and was about to sit down and have something to eat when suddenly the door opened and there stood his passenger.
His clothes were disordered as though he hadn’t slept all night and it was clear that he had been crying.
“I want to … put on …. your Tefillin,” he said as he burst into uncontrollable tears and fell to his knees. “Oh please forgive me!!” He wailed “My G-d, please forgive me!!”
He doubled over like a rag doll on the floor with his face in his hands and his entire body shaking with heart-rending sobs. The astounded Rav Yosef watched with his mouth open in disbelief; he had never seen anything like this in his life!
Later, when the man had calmed down he explained what had happened. Really he was a Jew but his lifestyle was exactly the opposite. The night before, he was about to go to sleep when he heard through the wall the midnight prayers of Rav Yosef. At first he paid no attention, and then he got mad because it was disturbing him, but then, slowly it woke up something inside of him.
He remembered that when he was a boy his father used to pray like that. He now was a wealthy man and had long forgotten his youth but Rav Yoseph’s prayers changed all that.
He decided firmly that he wanted to become a new person; to become his real self…he wanted to be a Jew again. Two days later they were standing before the Rebbe. Rav Yosef was informed that he had fulfilled the purpose of his strange career, and as for the ‘passenger’; the Rebbe wrote a treatise called ‘Pokeach Ivrim’ to guide him on his journey back to Judaism. (This booklet is available today)
This, then, is the importance of the story of Eliezer the servant and emissary of Avraham. In a sense we, like Eliezer, are all servants and emissaries of the Creator and every detail of our mission is important. In fact some people have to repeat life and be re-incarnated (gilgulim) several times to get every detail of their job done.
But just like Rav Yosef, our life’s task is often difficult and seemingly the opposite of what we naturally want and understand. But the goal is infinitely great: to bring Moshiach who will bring the entire world back to the truth; that HaShem is the creator and King of all creation.
(As we say in the ‘Alenu’ prayer thrice daily)
This weekend in Crown Heights New York, the Headquarters of the Lubavitch Rebbe will be the annual convention of Chabad ‘Shluchim’; thousands of young men who, just like Rav Yosef and Eliezer, have put their personal careers aside to become emissaries and servants of the Lubavitcher Rebbe; the Avraham Avinu of our generation, because they feel that that is the only way to really make a good world, a Torah world, a Moshiach world, and that is the most important thing there is.
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