It's a little thing, an easily overlooked. Avraham's nameless servant makes the arduous journey to the city of Nahor to fulfill his pledge to his master and find a suitable wife for Yitzchak and bring her back. Gd provides, and Rebekkah appears at the well, showing great hospitality. And it turns out she is also a daughter of Avraham's kinsman, Bethuel. He is invited to partake of Bethuel's hospitality. His camels are fed, and the servant and his entourage's feet are washed in the traditional custom. Then the servant is offered a meal. And he says:
"Lo ochal ad im-dibarti d'varai." "I will not eat until I have spoken my words." (or more poetically, "told my tale.") (Gen. 24:33)
The servant then proceeds to relate the entire story-Avraham's instructions, the servant's request that Gd provide, and Gd's answer with Rebekkah. The story related, Laban and Bethuel, convinced this is Gd's will, gladly offer Rebekkah to be taken back to be Yitzchak's bride. Then, only after the servant offers gifts to Bethuel and Laban, does the servant finally eat. (As an aside, while they don't give Rebekkah a choice, the next morning they do offer her the choice of whether to delay her departure so that she may prepare, though she choose to go right away.)
OK. The Torah tells us the whole story, as it unfolds. And then the Torah insists that we hear the whole story yet again, as told by the servant to Bethuel and Laban. What's that all about?
We have two things to consider here. First, the lessons that can be learned from the servant's insistence that he tell his tale before he eats. After all, the servant sees what has transpired as Gd's direct action in response to his request! Surely, we are all sometimes guilty of failing to stop and remember and relate and thank Gd for something good that has happened. Surely, after his long journey, the servant was hungry, and tired. He could easily have chosen to eat first and then tell his tale. It wasn't like he, or Rebekkah, Laban or Bethuel were going anywhere or had something else to do that night. So perhaps the lesson is that the servant had his priorities straight-focus on the task at hand, follow the instructions of your master, and complete the work before tending to your personal needs. Perhaps the lesson is to not forget to stop and thank Gd for answering prayers. Perhaps the lesson is that when good things happen to us, we should share them straightaway without delay. The text is there. Go figure it out for yourself.
And then there is the fact that not only does the Torah tell us that the servant refuses to eat before he tells the whole story of his mission. Then the Torah goes on to relate the entire retelling. What's that about. We've been taught from infancy that when things are repeated in the Torah, they're important. So the repetition of the story of Abraham lying, twice, about Sarah not being his wife, and later Yitzchak doing the same about Rebekkah must have some significance. And the rabbis built an entire system of dietary laws around the thrice repeated injunction to not boil a kid in it's mother's milk.
So why does the Torah repeat this story? There could be myriads of reasons. It's another emphasis on the importance of hospitality, for this is the standard that the servant sets for judging the potential bride worthy. It's an example of Gd answering a prayer directly. It's a reminder to relate a story truthfully, accurately and completely, which the servant surely does. It's a reminder to share the miracles we encounter with the people we encounter. Maybe it's just a simple reminder that repetition is often desirable. Maybe it's just a simple mnemonic device to help the reader remember the story. But that brings us back to the original question of why the repetition.
My personal theory is that it's a little of everything already mentioned, and then some. Now it's up to you. The Torah has set the stage. I've tried to pull back the curtain a bit. Now go and figure out what the play could mean.
©2001 by Adrian A. Durlester
It's one of my favorites, so why not read my Lekh Lekha Musing from 5760, "Things Are Seldom What They Seem-An Excerpt from the Journal of Lot." I'll also lead you to it's sequel for Vayera next week.
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