Hatreds not vowed and concealed are to be feared more than those openly declared. –Marcus Tullius Cicero
Abraham sends his servant (named by the Midrash as Eliezer) to Haran from Canaan, to Abraham’s family, to find a bride for Isaac. Eliezer finds Rebecca daughter of Betuel, and immediately understands that she is the one for Isaac. Abraham’s nephew, Betuel, and Betuel’s son, Lavan, greet Eliezer warmly, and upon hearing Eliezer’s account, immediately agree that the match should be made.
The biblical account that follows however, is highly enigmatic. First of all, Betuel completely disappears from the narrative. Secondly, Rebecca’s family appears to want to then delay Rebecca’s departure.
The Midrash fills in some of the gaps and provides a wild story. The Midrash tells of a conspiracy to kill Eliezer. Betuel attempts to secretly poison Eliezer, however, an angel intervenes, switching Eliezer’s and Betuel’s food, leading the poisoner, Betuel, to be poisened and to die. Hence his disappearance from the rest of the account.
However, that still leaves us with the question of the motive. Why did Betuel want to kill Eliezer? Why initially agree to the marriage and then try to delay it?
The Berdichever on the story explains that Betuel and Lavan actually wanted to prevent Isaac from ever having progeny. In their Talmudic deviousness, they knew the law that if a person sends an agent to marry someone on his behalf, the sender is prohibited to marry anyone else while the agent is away. The law is to prevent a case of marrying someone who in actuality would be forbidden to him without knowing it.
Their plan was therefore simple and Talmudically sound. They would accept Isaac’s marriage proposal through Eliezer, contractually binding Isaac and Rebecca. Then they would kill Eliezer and keep Rebecca at home, preventing Isaac from ever marrying anyone else and ensuring that he would have no progeny.
Of course, divine intervention assured that the evil conspiracy came to naught. It’s still not clear why Betuel and Lavan had such jealousy and hatred of their cousins Abraham and Isaac that they would want to destroy their future children’s lives to achieve their hateful plans. We see Lavan attempt to subvert Isaac’s son Jacob a generation later, only to be thwarted again by God.
It is amazing that millennia later we are still surrounded by the spiritual descendants of Betuel and Lavan, by people who hate us and want to destroy us and our progeny.
May all our enemies’ evil plans be thwarted and turned against them and may we merit to see the hatred and jealousy of the world turn to peace and understanding.
To the victims of The Tree of Life Congregation attack. May their families be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.