This week’s parsha tells of Avraham’s major life goal after the death of his wife – the furthering of his line by means of finding a wife for his son Yitzchak. Thus, in some ways the protagonist of the parsha is Avraham’s servant (not named here, but famously assumed to be Eliezer, the servant mentioned in 15:2). The story is a common one in the Torah: the servant approaches a well, asks Hashem for a sign so that he knows who the right woman is (hint: she must be gracious and generous with her water, offering to the servant and his parched camels), and then that sign presents itself. One comes to really understand the servant’s thought process, as he recounts the entire story again when meeting Rivka’s family. I was struck, however, by the contrast in their response. The servant relates his story, and then asks for Rivka’s hand in marriage on behalf of his master, Avraham. Of all the responses that could have been given, Betuel and Lavan (Rivka’s father and brother, respectively) answer: “This matter has come from Hashem – we could not speak ill or good of it” (Genesis / Bereishit 24:50, translation mine). In throwing up their hands, Betuel and Lavan do not seem to enthusiastic about the prospect of sending their Rivka away.
While this response leaves some room for ambiguity, I am more convinced that theirs was a hesitant one now that I have considered the continuation of the dialogue. The next verse states: “Here is Rivka before you, take her and go, and let her be a wife to the son of your master as Hashem has said” (24:51). The term “take her and go” – קח ולך – appears in another story in Avraham’s life, shortly after we meet him. The first time that Avram and Sarai go down to Egypt, Pharaoh says the same thing in asking Avram to leave after acting like Sarai was his sister, and not his wife (12:19). In that context, it is clear that Pharaoh wants nothing to do with Avram ever again – and thus I wonder if Betuel and Lavan similarly want nothing to do with Avraham’s household ever again. There is clearly an understanding that Avraham is a godly man, and with that connection comes power that is not to be challenged. Nonetheless, both Pharaoh and Rivka’s family do so only reluctantly.
When you can’t say no
Without incurring wrath