Date: November 9th 2017


Parshat Chaye Sarah relates that Avraham (Abraham) set out to choose a wife for his son Isaac, and he charged his servant Eliezer with the responsibility of finding the right person. Avraham's instructions were to begin the search in the household of Bituel, who was a close relative of Avraham. If someone appropriate from that family could not be identified, a second choice would be a woman from the households of Aner, Eshkol, or Mamreh. They were three upstanding individuals, referred to in the Torah as people who were associated by treaty with Avraham. But Eliezer was enjoined to avoid choosing a Canaanite woman.

Quoting the Talmud, the Commentary of Rashi relates that Eliezer had a daughter of his own who he proposed as a possible first marriage choice for Isaac. Avraham responded by saying that due to their Canaanite lineage, Eliezer’s family could not join in marriage with Avraham’s.

The commentary of Maskil L’Dovid (By Rabbi Dovid Pardo, 1718-1790) asks the following. Aner, Eshkol, and Mamreh had the same deficiency of family that disqualified Eliezer – they too were Canaanites. If so, although Eliezer may not have qualified as the first choice of family, why wasn’t he at least considered the second choice ahead of Aner, Eshkol, and Mamreh? While Aner, Eshkol, and Mamreh were people of relative distinction, they were in no way the spiritual equals of Eliezer. Eliezer was a prophet and a great scholar of Torah. (The Talmud relates that Avraham taught the Torah to Eliezer, and it was Eliezer who taught the Torah he learned from Avraham to the public.)

The Maskil L’Dovid answers that despite Eliezer’s greatness, his request demonstrated a single critical personal deficiency. Eliezer did not recognize the limitations of his own stature and his true place in the world. This led to the inappropriate suggestion that his family eclipsed that of Bituel, who was a member of Avraham’s exalted family. Were it not for that ill-advised request, Eliezer might have been chosen second after Bituel. However, due to this failing, the families of Aner, Eshkol, and Mamreh were deemed more desirable than Eliezer’s.

Surely, a random unrealistic fantasy about one's own self is not necessarily problematic. To one extent or other, it is likely that almost all people occasionally imagine themselves to be what they are not. However, Eliezer’s misconception of self was apparently deeply ingrained – so much so that it led him to act inappropriately in a matter of great significance. This level of self-delusion is what is so personally devastating.

Due to his saintly character and knowledge of Torah, Eliezer’s overall stature completely overshadowed that of Aner, Eshkol, and Mamreh. Yet, due to this one flaw of Eliezer’s, they were deemed more worthy of marriage to Avraham. One might think that Eliezer’s multi-faceted greatness and G-dliness outweighed Eliezer’s single flaw.

The text is evidently teaching that overestimating one’s own status to the point where important decisions are impacted upon is a positively fatal flaw. It alone can undermine and negate much of an entire lifetime of genuine holiness.

This idea has wide contemporary application. As Eliezer did 3700 years ago, otherwise honorable, intelligent, and well-adjusted individuals may completely overestimate their own stature, scholarship, and skills. This one misperception alone can literally beget a lifetime of sadness and frustration.

Those who fall prey to this mistake will likely be constantly angry and embittered. At work, they will rage over not being promoted as they fantasize they should be. Outside of work, they may be constantly pained over not getting enough “respect” from family and friends. In reality, these people may be receiving their due, both socially and in the workplace. However, their overinflated perception of self makes what they truly deserve seem insufficient.

This category of problem can also play out in the world of Torah Judaism. When those who are unqualified to decide on Torah policy or Halacha (Torah law) overestimate their own scholarship and begin issuing flawed “rulings” on matters of Torah that can devastate entire communities or yeshivot.

One also hears of instances where this same syndrome interferes with the ability to find a partner in marriage. There are those who remain single because they insist on marrying “over their heads” – to types of people who may simply not be interested in them.

Eliezer’s example reminds people to scrupulously avoid overinflating their own stature.

This Dvar Torah was mainly taken from this writer’s volume “Defining Humanity” on the Book of Bereishit. It is a slightly edited version of was previously emailed on October 24th 2013.

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