This week’s portion has two storylines; the first is the death and burial of Sarah. The second is the searching and finding of a wife for Isaac, Abraham and Sarah’s son.
This second story is the longest chapter in the Book of Genesis. This is remarkable not only for that length, but also for what would seem to be unnecessary repetition in the story.
Whereas elsewhere the repeat of a sentence or phrase would be worthy of comment, even the change of a word or a single letter, here we have the extended story itself with a very full retelling, mentioned in addition a number of times.
Abraham tasks his elder servant Eliezer to travel back to his birthplace to find a wife among his kinsmen. When Eliezer arrives, he prays to God for help to succeed that day, for the conditions in order to recognize the proper woman, and for recognition that he will be true to his oath to Abraham, his lord. This personal heartfelt prayer reveals the motivation and inner thoughts of Eliezer. Other places in the Torah we must infer thoughts and desires of biblical characters by actions or even silences. Here, all is clear by the in-depth story and the retelling thereof.
What is even more extraordinary is the granting of his prayer before he even finishes. In fact, the whole tale is filled with references to haste — Ezekiel running to Rivka when he sees her, her haste in giving him water and drawing more for his camels, her running to her mother and even her hurried departure and journey back to Abraham and Isaac.
I believe the haste indicates two things, the importance of this mission and the enthusiasm of those involved. It also indicates the importance of appearances, for through our actions and appearances we reveal what is important and what motivates us.
In many ways, the end result of this story has been preordained. After much heartache and uncertainty, God had already promised to Abraham a nation and a people through his son Isaac. No matter the details here, we know we are coming to an end. No matter how quiet or climactic, after a long trip, it’s the last step that closes the journey and starts the next chapter. Even so, the very end has its own special significance.
When you build or remodel a house — after laying the foundation, framing, roofing and drywall — it’s only when the first coat of paint goes on do you finally see it for what it is. When all the broad strokes and fine details come together, after what may seem an agonizingly slow process, that last piece of the puzzle, that last step seems to, in haste, rush fastest to the end.
Henry Shapiro is cantor at the Parkway Jewish Center. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.