חיי שרה

This week’s parsha continues Avraham’s narrative, first with his buying a burial plot for his late wife Sarah, and then in finding his son Yitzchak a wife, who turns out to be his relative Rivka.  In this parsha we are also introduced to the motif of courting by the well, and to the character of Lavan, Rivka’s brother.  As is starting to become clear, Sforno sticks quite closely to the pshat, and saves his most involved commentary for metaphysical matters.  Nevertheless, I have continued to be struck by how concisely he can capture a point, as he does in the story of Avraham’s servant fulfilling his mission in finding his master’s son a wife.  After making his case, the servant puts all his cards on the table: “And now, if you [Betuel and Lavan, Rivka’s father and brother, respectively] would do a kindness to me and act in truth, tell me [whether you are willing to make this match] or not, and I will turn one way or another.  And Lavan and Betuel answered, and they said: this matter comes from Hashem, we are unable to speak to you concerning it good or evil” (24:49-50, translation mine).  The clear question here is: why would Lavan and Betuel have any trouble speaking positively about this match, if they admit that it is divinely inspired?  Sforno explains: They cannot speak badly of it with the intention to annul the decree of Hashem; and they cannot speak well of it, as that would imply that this match needed their approval (comments to 24:50).  Of course they can praise the match, but their opinion is clearly not being solicited, and that is the meaning of the verse, according to the Sforno.

Well or ill; why ask

Two mere mortals to comment

On the will of God

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