Servant of Avraham: Master of ‘Bitul’

No one extols Eliezer the servant of Avraham. His name is mentioned only once in the Chumash, in Genesis 15:2. Nowhere is his name mentioned in parshat “Chayei Sarah;” although, the success of his mission to find the right wife for Yitzhak is crucial to the enterprise of our Patriarchs.

How does Eliezer describe himself?

Eliezer introduces himself to Rivka’s family saying (Gen.24:34) “I am a servant of Avraham” and he is referred to as an  “עבד” or “servant” or by the word “איש” or “man” throughout parshat “Chayei Sarah”.

Did he have a wife or children?  We don’t know, although; the Midrash suggests that Eliezer’s mission to find an appropriate wife for Yitzhak in fact countered his own self-interest–that he did in fact have a daughter whom he had hoped would become Yitzhak’s wife (See Rashi on Gen. 24:39).

All we know is that Avraham trusted him enough to appoint him head of his household (Gen.24:2) and then, after Sarah died, appointed him to seek a wife for his son, Yitzhak, his designated heir to Avraham’s spiritual legacy (Gen.24:3).

As it states in Gen. 24:1-4 “Now Avraham was old, well on in years, and HaShem had blessed Avraham with everything. And Avraham said to his servant, the elder of his household who ruled over all that was his: ‘…swear by HaShem, God of heaven and God of earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell. Rather, to my land and to my kindred shall you go and take a wife for my son—for Yitzhak.'”

But why bestow such a huge responsibility on Avraham’s servant?  Because Avraham was so old and because now Sarah had died?  Maybe.

The Talmud suggests in Yoma 28b (Sefaria) that when the Torah said “And Avraham said to his servant, the elder of his household, who ruled over all he had” that “Rabbi Elazar said: This verse means that he had mastery over the  Torah of his master, having gained proficiency in all of the Torah of Avraham. That is the meaning of the verse: ‘He is “Damascus” [Dammesek] Eliezer’ (Gen. 15:2).  Rabbi Elazar said: The word Dammesek is a contraction of ‘he who draws [doleh] and gives drink [mashke] to others from his master’s Torah’.”

So it appears that he listened to and learned well from Avraham his master and appeared to inculcate within himself his values of lovingkindness “chesed” and truth “emet”.

He did as he was asked by Avraham and with alacrity, asking only pragmatic questions but never questioning Avraham’s intentions.

Hence, Avraham trusted him.

Eliezer’s words were measured.  Yet, the Torah finds it worthy to even repeat twice Eliezer’s description of finding Rivka at the well—which is rather unusual in that the Torah takes very seriously the importance of the conservation of words. Yet, there is a Talmudic tradition (Sukkah 21b) that even the ordinary conversations of the sages are worthy of study and in Bereshit Rabbah 60 suggests that the conversation of of servants of the Patriarchs is even more precious to HaShem than even particular legal sections in the Torah.

Eliezer was humble.  When he prayed he asked HaShem not to answer his request as a favor to himself but rather on behalf of Avraham. Due to Avraham’s merit he plead for God to show “chesed and emet” to enable him to successfully complete his mission to find a wife for Isaac.

Eliezer did not look for credit. He did not seek the limelight. He viewed himself only as an instrument for fulfilling God’s will for Avraham’s spiritual destiny. And as his name suggests “Eli” my God ” ezer” is my help.

We do not know Eliezer’s thoughts or feelings; he appeared to be totally focused on his mission with discipline, humility, and trust in God.

Is it possible that his name was left out of this parsha so that we might focus on his mission and not on the person sent to carry it out?  Of course, but perhaps this anonymity is here to teach us something more,

The Midrash of Rabbi Moshe Alshich on the Torah cites Bereshit Rabbah 60 which points out that only three people in the Torah had their prayers answered by God immediately–Eliezer here; Moshe on the occasion of rebellion of Korach; and Solomon at the inauguration of the Temple–and only in the case of Eliezer was his prayer answered before he even finished his request.

Upon reflection,  when we are told that [Eliezer] “his servant who controlled all that was his (Avraham’s)”, the word used for “controlled” –“המושל” can also be translated as “the one who rules over,” and; interestingly, in Proverbs 16:32:

“טוב ארך אפים מגיבור ומושל ברוחו מלוכד עיר

“He who is slow to anger is better than a strong man, and one who masters his passions [is better] than a conqueror of a city.”

So I’ll suggest that Eliezer, the עבד of Avraham, is the master of “bitul” or self-nullification.  He can be nameless because his name is not his identity.

Eliezer has spent more decades of his life with Avraham than has Yitzhak. He has mastered Avraham’s values and he has mastered self-discipline in service of HaShem–which incorporates all of the overarching values that would later become incorporated into the Torah.

Yet, there is a gap Eliezer is nevertheless unable to overcome with Avraham;  he is not Avraham’s real son.

About the Author
Deborah was born in Morristown Tennessee and went to college at Brandeis, JTS, and Yeshiva University. She has an MS in Jewish education, an MA in Judaic studies, and an MSW in Social Work. She has also taken courses at Brovender's, Drisha, and Nishmat. She has worked for NYANA, served as Director of Senior Services at the Riverdale YMHA and has worked at the Claims Conference with holocaust survivors. Most recently after studying at the Pardes Institute Kollel she successfully completed Yoreh Deah studies with Rav Daniel Landes.
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