Chayei Sarah – What does it mean to be a sacred servant?

One big question that this week’s Torah portion asks is: In whose hands would you put your future?

In your life, if you had to task one person with a mission the success of which  would either guarantee your family’s existential future or end it, whom would you send? Do we have such people in our lives? Who might they be? What are the qualities of such a person? Such a person I would call a sacred servant, someone who mission is completely tied up with the ultimate pursuit of goodness in the world.

Abraham gives one of his servants a task such as this. From this story, we can learn about what it means to be a sacred servant.

When this week’s Torah portion opens, we learn that Sarah has died. We don’t know why she died, or how she died. The rabbis have always connected the Binding of Isaac to Sarah’s death, so if one wants to think about the reasons Sarah died, one can turn to the midrash. What the Torah portion does deal with is how people live their lives in the shadow of Sarah’s death. The first thing that Abraham does is mourn. I can imagine Abraham, returned from Mount Moriah, only to find Sarah cold and lifeless in her tent. Kneeling at her side, he weeps. His hot tears flowing down his face as he reflects back on the love of his life. Then he gets up. And it is the getting up part that is critical. It’s not that Abraham is unsentimental. It is that he knows that he has two sacred tasks to accomplish: Bury Sarah. Get Isaac married.

The opening episode is Abraham doing very delicate negotiations with the local council of elders, trying to purchase a piece of land with a double-burial cave for Sarah. Those deliberations are subtle and complex, but in essence, Abraham insists that the land be purchased, and not granted to him as a gift. Thus Abraham acquires the first piece of Jewish owed property in the land that God has promised to them and their descendants. Now, if only they had some descendants.

We don’t know why Isaac is not married. We are not even sure where Isaac is living at this time. We do know that Isaac is single, that for some reason, that neither he or Abraham are capable of going back to Haran, where Abraham’s family currently lives, and that it is only there that a suitable partner for Isaac will be found. The success of this mission is critical, and failure in this mission threatens to upset all of the promises made between Abraham and God about his future people.

So who does Abraham send to accomplish this task? His servant (which in Hebrew is an eved, which is related to the word for slave.) In previous Torah portions, we have encountered Abraham’s servant Eliezer, and almost all commentators are comfortable calling this one Eliezer as well. Eliezer has been the head of Abraham’s household for years. He is the COO, head of daily operations, for the Abraham and Sarah estate, and he is the one that Abraham think will inherit thishis estate, in lieu of biological children.

What are the qualities of a sacred servant?

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