Parshat Chayei Sarah: Bitachon

“Hashem, the G-d of the heavens that took me from the house of my father and from the land of my birth, that spoke to me and that promised me saying, “to your descendants I will give this land” He will send His messenger before you and you will take a wife for my son from there.” (Beresheit 24:7)

What is bitachon? Literally, the term means “security.” It is used to refer to a sense of confidence or security in the conviction that Hahsem will provide and care for us. But when is it appropriate to have bitachon? A common response is that we can always rely on Hashem. In practice, some individuals believe that they do not need to take the usual measures to assure one’s own well-being. For example according to this interpretation, we do not need to provide our children with the tools they will need to make a reasonable living. Instead, we should focus solely on the Torah and religious education of our children. We should have bitachon that if they are truly devoted to the Torah, Hashem will provide. This interpretation of bitachon has even become somewhat popular. However, is this interpretation derived from the Torah or is it alien to the Torah? This week’s parasha deals extensively with this issue. What does the Torah have to say?

Avraham assigns a mission to his servant Eliezer. He directs Eliezer to select a wife for Yitzchak – Avraham’s son. However, Avraham instructs Eliezer that he must not select a wife from among the people Canaan. Instead, he is to travel to Avraham’s homeland – Aram Naharayim – and find a wife there. There is one complication. Eliezer’s mission involves a unique restriction. Avraham tells Eliezer that he may not take Yitzchak with him. He must convince the girl and her family to agree to a marriage with a stranger in a far-off land. Eliezer is concerned with this restriction. He cautions Avraham that it may be impossible to fulfill the mission under this restriction. But Avraham assures Eliezer that Hashem will aid him and he will be successful. Avraham had bitachon!

However, it is important to consider Avraham’s words carefully. He prefaced his assurance by reminding Eliezer that Hashem had taken him from the land of his birth and had promised to give the land of Canaan to his descendants. What was the purpose of this preface? Rashbam and many others discuss this issue and come to a similar conclusion. They explain that Avraham was revealing to Eliezer the basis for his certainty that Hashem will help Eliezer succeed in this mission. Hashem had told Avraham to settle in the land of Canaan and He had promised the land to his descendents. Hashem certainly did not want Yitzchak – Avraham’s son – to abandon the land of Canaaan. And surely, for Avraham to have descendants, Yitzchak must marry. Therefore, in order to fulfill His promise to Avraham, Hashem will aid Eliezer in his mission.[1]

So, Avraham’s bitachon was based upon a specific promise of Hashem. Because Hashem had promised Avraham that his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan, Avraham had bitachon that He would aid Eliezer in this mission – whose success was essential to the fulfillment of the promise.

This is the first insight that our parasha provides on the nature of bitachon. Bitachon is not based on a vague speculation regarding Hashem’s plan for us. It is founded upon specific knowledge of this plan. Avraham was not just saying to Eliezer, “Be faithful to Hashem and He will help.” He was telling Eliezer that Hashem had revealed His plan and that He is trustworthy and will help fulfill it. But the parasha has an even more important insight regarding bitachon.

“And now, if you intend to act with kindness and truth towards my master Avraham, then tell me. And if not, tell me and I will turn to the right or left.” (Beresheit 24:49)

Eliezer arrives and Aram Naharayim and devises a plan to find the proper wife for Yitzchak. The plan works so quickly and completely that Eliezer recognizes that Hashem’s providence is at work. Rivka is the divinely chosen wife for Yitzchak. Eliezer meets with Rivka’s family. He explains his mission to them. He describes the test he devised and its wondrous success. He asks the family to allow Rivka to leave them and enter into marriage with Yitzchak. He tells them that if they refuse, he will turn his right or left. What does this phrase mean? Rashi explains that Eliezer was telling Rivka’s family that if they refused him, he would seek a wife from the children of Yishmael – Avraham’s son or Lote – Avraham’s nephew.[2]

According to Rashi’s interpretation Eliezer was being less than truthful. Avraham had specifically told him to seek a wife from Aram Naharayim. He had not told Eliezer that if unsuccessful, he should then attempt to find a wife from among the children of Yishmael or Lote. In fact, he told Eliezer that if he did not succeed in his mission, then Avraham would settle for a wife from Canaan. Why did Eliezer misrepresent Avraham’s directions?

But this is not the only misrepresentation that Eliezer made. In recounting Avraham’s charge to him, Eliezer made a key change. Avraham had commanded Eliezer to seek a wife in Aram Haharayim. Avraham did not specify that the wife should be from his own family. Apparently, Avraham felt that the people of Aram Naharayim were superior to those who lived in Cannan. But he did not insist on a family member. However, when Eliezer spoke with Rivka’s family, he told them that Avraham had charged him with finding a wife for Yitzchak from his family. Eliezer made no mention of Avraham’s insistence that Eliezer seek a wife in Aram Naharayim. Avraham stressed the geographical origins of Yitzchak’s future wife and Eliezer represented Avraham as being concerned with family origins.

Now, it is clear that Eliezer’s two deviations are at least consistent. First, he altered Avraham’s directive and represented Avraham’s primary concern to be the family origin of the perspective wife. Next, he said that if Rivka’s family would not allow her to marry Yitzzchak, then there were other options within the family – the children of Yishmael or Lote. Of course, had Eliezer represented Avraham accurately as wanting a wife for Yitzchak from Aram Naharayim, it would have made no sense to contend that he had the option of seeking a wife among the children of Yishmael or Lote. But why did Eliezer misrepresent his master’s wishes?

Eliezer and Avraham understood that Eliezer’s mission would be difficult. He was to ask a girl and her family to agree to a wedding with a man they did not know and could not meet. Instead, the suitor was represented by his father’s servant. Inevitably, this arrangement would arouse suspicion. Why was the potential groom not doing his own bidding? Why was he sending a representative in his place? The obvious suspicion would be that the groom was flawed in some serious and obvious way. In order to conceal this critical flaw, the suitor was sending a representative. How could this suspicion be overcome?

Our Sages explain that before sending Eliezer on his mission Avraham turned over all of his wealth to Yitzchak. Then, he gave Eliezer the document that recorded the transaction.[3] They add that when Eliezer spoke with Rivka’s family, he showed them this document.[4] What was the purpose of this transaction? It is obvious from the Sages comments that Avraham felt that the transference of his wealth to Yitzchak would facilitate Yitzchak’s marriage. And Avraham wanted Eliezer to provide evidence of this transfer to the chosen girl’s family. But why was this necessary? If the objective was to impress the girl and her family with Yitzchak’s wealth, it should have been adequate to point out that Yitzchak was Avraham’s heir. He would inherit all of Avraham’s wealth. Why did Avraham feel it was necessary to transfer his wealth at this time?

Apparently, Avraham was well aware of the suspicions that would be invited by Yitzchak’s absence. He needed to provide an explanation or at least some response. His transfer of his wealth to Yitzchak served two purposes. First, it provided an assurance that Yitzchak was a capable person. Avraham would not give total control of his wealth to a fool! By transferring his property to Yitzchak, Avraham provided evidence of Yitzchak’s competence. Second, Avraham provided an excuse for Yitzchak’s absence. Yitzchak was responsible for the management of a great estate and tremendous wealth. He could not leave his duties and responsibilities. Instead, he sent his father’s faithful and wise servant.

But Eliezer knew that although Avraham’s plan was brilliant, it was not complete. Avraham’s plan provided a compelling explanation for Yitzchak’s absence. But it did not completely remove suspicion. Why was Yitzchak seeking a wife in a distant land? What was wrong with the women of Canaan? Could it be that the women of Canaan – who could observe Yitzchak first-hand – would not marry him? How would Eliezer account for being in Aram Naharayim?

Eliezer decided that his best option was to appeal to the conceit of the girl’s family and at the same time let them know that he had other alternatives. So, he told Rivka’s family that they were special. But there were other alternatives if they were resistant. He was saying, “Sure, Yitzchak can find a wife among the women of Canaan. Those women would fall all over themselves for the opportunity. But they aren’t getting the opportunity. Avraham wants someone better for his son. He wants someone from his own family – your family. That can be Rivka. But hey! If you’re not interested, that’s fine. I’ll just go visit Yishmael or Lote.” And Eliezer’s plan worked!

Now, what is the point of this whole account? Avraham and Eliezer had bitachon. The Torah tells us that nonetheless, they devised an intricate and brilliant plan to find a wife for Yitzchak. They did not assume that they could merely expect Hashem to provide. They accepted upon themselves the obligation to do everything in their power to find a wife. They assumed that if they made every possible effort then Hashem would bring them success. But they must do everything in their power!

What is the Torah’s concept of bitachon? Hashem will fulfill His promises. But first, we must do everything in our power to bring about the fulfillment of these promises. Only after we have fulfilled our obligation are we entitled to rely on Hashem.

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[1] Rabbaynu Shemuel ben Meir (Rashbam) Commentary on Sefer Beresheit 24:7.

[2] Rabbaynu Shlomo ben Yitzchak (Rashi), Commentary on Sefer Beresheit 24:49.

[3] Rabbaynu Shlomo ben Yitzchak (Rashi), Commentary on Sefer Beresheit 24:10.

[4] Rabbaynu Shlomo ben Yitzchak (Rashi), Commentary on Sefer Beresheit 24:36.