In this week’s parsha, Avraham sends out Eliezer to find a shidduch for his son Yitzchak. Beforehand, Avraham makes Eliezer swear that he’ll find a girl from the land where Avraham was born, and not from Eretz Kna’an which was where they were residing at the time. Why? What was so terrible about the people of Kna’an?
The Drashos HaRan explains that the reason Avraham wanted to distance himself from the people of Kna’an was because the people of Kna’an had bad middos. Imbued in their nature were negative character traits which Avraham didn’t want to be incorporated into the gene pool of Klal Yisrael. As a result, Avraham made Eliezer swear to go back to his homeland to find a wife for Yitzchak.
However, it doesn’t seem to make any sense at all. We know that Avraham fled his original homeland because the inhabitants there were worshipers of Avoda Zara. When he came to Kna’an, he became a massive mekareiv. All the people would flock to hear him; he was truly “Vayikra besheim Hashem!” In contrast, the Medrash tells us that the people of Avraham’s birthplace sought to kill Avraham for his “heretical” teachings.
These were the type of people who Avraham wanted for his son as a shidduch? These people are better than those who believe in Hashem, yet have bad middos? It can be compared to a father who looks for a shidduch for his son and two prospects emerge. One is a really nice guy, yet he happens to be Buddhist, and the other is a little rude but is a yid and shomer mitzvos. Of course a father would go with the latter! The former isn’t even a considerable option. So how could Avraham request such a thing from Eliezer? Even though the people of Kna’an had bad middos, they should still have been better prospects than the people of Avraham’s birthplace, for the people of Kna’an did seem to genuinely believe in Hashem.
Rav Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg zt”l answers this question based on a Rashi in Chagigah. (I heard a similar vort a few years ago in the name of the Tiferes Yisrael in Parshas Toldos when Rivka says “Lamah zeh anochee”). Many people tend to think that emunah comes solely from an “intellectual” knowledge of Hashem. They believe that the greater a person’s mind, the greater level he can acquire in his belief. However, in Jewish consciousness, we believe there is a simpler level to our emunah which isn’t necessarily connected to the power of one’s intellect. In fact, Rav Elchonon Wasserman says (in the very first ma’imer found in the Kovetz Maimarim) that we see throughout history people who had tremendous minds, yet were absolute kofrim of Hashem. The pshat, he says, is that the reason people tend not to believe is based on the individual’s negius. Because a person WANTS to believe in something which contradicts Hashem, he’ll end up denying Hashem’s existence; for his personal desires and Hashem’s ratzon can’t coexist.
Rav Sheinberg zt”l says that the exact opposite was the essence of Avraham Avinu. Rashi in Chagiga 3a says that Avraham’s greatest asset wasn’t that he was smarter than everyone else. Rather, Avraham gave over his entire heart to Hashem. All of his negius, all of his inclinations, he channeled towards Hashem. All of his desires were just to do the ratzon Hashem. He never let his negius get in the way of his relationship with Hashem. He gave over his heart and pointed his desires towards Hashem. As a result, he alone was able to see clearly through the fogginess of the world and successfully attain truth.
This is also the pshat why Avraham told Eliezer to take a bride for his son from the land which he had come as opposed to Kna’an. Avraham understood that in order for the Jewish people to have nitzchiyus, we would have to give over our hearts to Hashem. We need to at least have the ability and the potentiality to point our desires to Hashem’s will. The people of Kna’an weren’t like that. They lacked this ability. They were irresolute. We see this from the fact that only 70 people ended up leaving Kna’an with Yaakov Avinu. What happened to everyone Avraham was mekareiv? The answer is that although they understood Hashem’s existence and were periodically inspired, they never fully gave themselves over to Hashem. Avraham saw this bad middah in them, and therefore made Eliezer swear to take a wife from his homeland. In his homeland, although the people witnessed open miracles, like Avraham surviving a fiery furnace, they were still able to fully “believe” in their own opposing beliefs. The only way this would be possible is if they were fully able to give themselves over to a certain ideal. Although they pointed themselves in the wrong direction, they possessed the ability to ignore their natural preferences and create a new personal preference of total self-nullification before something else. Avraham needed this middah for his children; he needed a woman who was able to give over her entire self for Hashem, because only with that middah can a nation last.
The Ran continues to explain that Middos are hereditary and have been passed on from our forefathers. As a result, we have this middah of Rivkah Imeinu. We have the ability to truly give over ourselves for something. The only question is what we choose to give over ourselves to. For people who aren’t Jewish, it may be sports, jobs, girlfriends, liberal ideas etc… But for Jews it has to be different. Hashem chose us to be different. He chose us to give over ourselves to Him and find meaning and purpose in His service. It’s our avodah and up to us to remove our personal negius and wholeheartedly make the choice to truly do what Hashem wants from us.
I remember once talking to a non-religious acquaintance I had met through a Kiruv organization. We spoke about the Haskalah movement and if there could exist any Judaic truth in the belief system of the Reform. After a long discussion, I remember telling him that I wasn’t against the idea of reforming, but it needs to be the right reform. Instead of taking people with little connection to Judaism and alienating them further from their heritage under the banner of Reform Judaism, why not focus a reform to bring the person closer to his roots? Why not a change in the opposite direction? Even though it may not be admitted, a strong basis for Reform was to grant the individual more “freedom” within the stricter structure of Orthodox belief and practice. In essence, they wanted to be able to choose which specific direction to point their life in. The people who followed were those who hadn’t fully given themselves over to Hashem, so when an idea arose giving them the potential ability to choose something else, they jumped in on a moment’s notice. I told him that I’m not against reform, but instead of trying to reform something kadosh to fit our desires, why not try to reform our desires to fit something kadosh? Instead of changing a religion, why not first work on changing yourself? This is the avodah of a lifetime, but it’s something we have the power to do. It’s in our genes. We inherited it all the way back from Rivkah. It just requires the desire to do it. It requires of us to make the conscious choice that instead of giving oneself over to finite and limited ambitions, one will strive for something greater. Each of us has to consciously say, “I will be an eved Hashem.”