God’s Plan for Man
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
“Rabbi Acha said, ‘More pleasant before God is the patriarchs’ servants’ mundane speech than the Torah of their children, as we find Eliezer’s account (describing his encounter with Rebecca) repeated in the Torah, while many of the most central Torah ideals are only given by way of hints” (Rashi Gen. 24:42 quoting Genesis Rabbah 60:8).
This is truly perplexing. We consider what is most central in the Torah are God’s words. How then can a servant’s words—even a servant of Abraham—be more precious to God? Was not the Torah given for the sake of the commands? How do we approach such a question?
The first step is to note what is being compared, as the quote of Rabbi Acha is one of comparison. We find that “mundane speech” is compared to “Torah”, and “servant” is compared to “patriarchs’ children.” In both comparisons, what generates our questions is that the latter appears obviously more important: Torah outweighs mundane speech and Israelites outweigh servants (in the capacity that Israelites must keep 613 commands unlike servants.)
Rabbi Acha is teaching a central lesson. He intends to draw our attention to God’s assessment of personal character. He first teaches that what Torah repeats is for emphasis of its importance. The difference between the patriarchs and ourselves is that they followed God out of an internal realization of God’s truth, with no externally imposed Torah system. Even the speech of the patriarchs’ servants is replete with wisdom and their attachment to God was by no coercion. The Midrash says, “At Sinai, God held the mountain over our heads and He said, ‘Accept the Torah or else, here will be your graves.’” Of course, this Midrash is metaphoric. But it teaches that the event of Sinai carried such clear proof of God’s existence that our acceptance of the Torah was in a manner “coerced,” as if a mountain was suspended over our heads in threat.
Not so the patriarchs. They arrived at a knowledge and service of God on their own. This is much more precious to God. The Megilla reads, “They arose and accepted that which they already accepted” referring to the Jews’ re-acceptance of the Torah out of love, as opposed to their Sinaic acceptance out of fear. Again, we are pointed to the concept that adherence to God has levels. Greater than one who is commanded, is one who arrives at the truth using his mind. True, there is a statement of the Rabbis, “One commanded is greater than one who is not,” but this does not mean greater in every way. Rabbi Israel Chait explained this to mean that when one is commanded, he must fight the additional rebelliousness against obligations. One with no obligations, but observes Torah, is great. But such a person has not conquered his rebellious instincts. However, this is a different question than our topic concerning Eliezer: adherence to God without coercion.
“More pleasant before God is the patriarchs’ servants’ mundane speech than the Torah of their children” teaches that love supersedes fear. Our ultimate goal in life is not to follow God based on fear, but rather, on love of God: the free will attachment to God through our awe of His wisdom. With no coercion, and unlike the idolatrous cultures of that era, the patriarchs and their servants followed reality and not imagination, they followed the design of natural law, psychology and all else God created. They understood God’s will that all these laws exists, and they adhered to them of their own choice. This supersedes the Jew who was coerced at Sinai, and today through Torah.
Thus, Torah was unnecessary during the first 2448 years of mankind. God designed man to live properly using his mind alone, expressed in the lives of the patriarchs and matriarchs. Only after mankind corrupted themselves through imagination and fantasy through idolatrous practice, was Torah necessary to combat all those false ideas that arose, and also provide man a jumpstart towards human perfection. The patriarchs discovered the Torah’s ideals using intellect alone, explaining why the rabbis say “the patriarchs observed Torah.” Of course, they could not observe Torah in a literal sense, since many laws are based on future events like Passover, so they could not celebrate Passover. And they could not observe tzitzis or tefillin, as these were not yet in existence. But the patriarchs followed the primary principles of Passover (monotheism) and tefillin (God’s unity). Thus, as they functioned perfect naturally without an imposed Torah system, Rabbi Acha teaches that they were more perfected than us. This is precisely why God’s Torah includes—and commences with—the lives of the patriarchs: they are models of how man achieved perfection based on his design alone. They reflect God’s perfect design of man, who, with intellect alone, could arrive at the best life.
Eliezer’s mundane speech and actions embodied perfection. He first prayed to God for assistance in finding a wife for Isaac. He asked for the proper values: a woman who was generous and didn’t merely respond to one’s request alone, but one who examined man’s (Eliezer’s) need and proactively watered his camels as well. When he saw God responding, he thanked God.
Genesis 24:46 reads: “I inquired of her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ And she said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, son of Nahor, whom Milcah bore to him.’ And I put the ring on her nose and the bands on her arms.” But in fact, Eliezer placed the jewelry on Rivka before asking of her lineage, as Rashi teaches he trusted God was helping him. However, with his psychological awareness, he reversed the order (saying he gave the jewelry only after learning Rivka’s lineage) when retelling the event to Lavan and Bethuel, for they would question Eliezer’s judgement. Rashi writes: “He did this in order that they should not catch him by his own words and say, ‘How could you give her anything when you did not yet know who she was!’” That might ruin his plan. Thus, Eliezer anticipated his steps.
Eliezer also displayed confidence and no desperation. And he gave an ultimatum, for Eliezer said, “And now, if you mean to treat my master with true kindness, tell me; and if not, tell me also, that I may turn right or left” (Ibid. 24:49). Eliezer said he would find another wife elsewhere if Lavan and Bethuel prevented Rivka from marrying Isaac. Although valuing Rivka’s perfection, Eliezer displayed no apparent need for Rivka per se, which gave him the upper hand, and his ultimatum left them no time to think, both contributing to his desired outcome. This is why Eliezer said these words.
The reason for Eliezer’s lengthy recount of the event finding Rivka, was to impress upon Lavan and Bethuel that God orchestrated this. His plan worked and they both said, “The matter was decreed by God; we cannot speak to you bad or good” (Ibid 24:50).
There is more to Eliezer’s words, but Rabbi Acha’s message is clear: Eliezer’s words are repeated in Torah to teach how a wise person follows God and prays to Him, and how he works with man using psychology and examination of all issues. He operates within the providential, natural and psychological laws God created and finds success naturally, and through God’s intervention. The patriarchs and their servants used intellect alone to arrive at human perfection.
God’s creations are perfect. Torah guides the masses, while few individuals then and now attain perfection even without Torah, using intellect.