Parshas Chayei Sarah - Stop, Look and Listen

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman

Posted on 11/01/18

Parshas HaShavua Divrei Torah sponsored by
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There is a pivotal moment in the story of the selection of Rivka as a wife for Yitzchok, where Eliezer, who has been constantly referred to until then as the עבד, the servant of Avraham, suddenly transitions into the nobler appellation of איש, the ‘man’, a term connoting dignity and stature.

והאיש משתאה לה מחריש לדעת ההצליח ד' דרכו אם לא (בראשית כד כא), The man was astonished at her, reflecting silently to know whether G-d had made his journey successful or not.

Eliezer had carefully crafted a script regarding his expected encounter with a maiden at the well that if it were to unfold precisely as he devised it, would serve as an omen that she was the bride destined for Yitzchok. Everything eventually plays out exactly according to his plan. It is Eliezer’s astonishment at that juncture, which the verse is depicting. Perhaps it is the validation of his initiative that affirms his newly obtained status as a ‘man’. Truth is though that the ‘omen’ wasn’t confirmed at that point, as he hadn’t yet determined her actual identity until a bit later.

The label of being a עבד, a servant, more specifically implies being enslaved, limited in freedom to choose. Whether we are physically in bondage or not, we are nevertheless ‘slaves’ to the drives, ambitions and anxieties that capture our attention and manipulate our emotions.

Worry stifles our ability to think clearly and we often feel chained by our fears. Disappointment as well, often defeats us and prevents us from motivating ourselves after experiencing failure.

Expectations too, can also distract us from sensing the joys along the journey of life, when our obsession to succeed focuses all of our energies on the goal at the expense of enjoying the experience.

Eliezer undertook a mission of cosmic import. The task of selecting a wife appropriate for the ‘unblemished sacrifice’, Yitzchok, from whom the entire history of mankind would hinge on, certainly weighed heavily on the shoulders of Avraham’s loyal servant, Eliezer. We can only imagine the pressure he felt in carrying out this mission. The fear of failure coupled with the anxiety to bring it to its successful conclusion, would befuddle the psyche of the greatest of servants.

Even more potentially disheartening to Eliezer was the dashing of his lifelong hope that his daughter would merit to be the worthy bride of Yitzchok. Remember that Eliezer had served his master, Avraham, for more than sixty five years. During that time he became so identified with his teacher, in character and spiritual attainment, that he is described as being a ‘spitting image’ of Avraham. Terrible disillusionment could have plagued Eliezer when he was shunned, despite his obvious sterling stature, and told that, no, he wouldn’t become the mechutan of Avraham.

How did Eliezer muster the emotional strength in conquering these powerful inner forces?

The Targum Unkelos on this verse describes with more specificity the stages of reaction Eliezer processed, translating the words as: שהי בה מסתכל שתיק, he waited, gazed, and was silent.

Although clearly overwhelmed with the excitement of success, rather than plodding eagerly forward he delays, he stops for a moment, holding his emotions back. He then ‘gazes’, intimating his maintaining a contemplative consciousness of the moment and its import. Finally he is utterly silent, absorbing the experience and allowing it to linger rather than seek to immediately bring it to fruition just yet.

Eliezer knew that whether the mission would succeed or not didn’t detract from the fact that something remarkable was taking place and clearly orchestrated from on high. Although there was still a chance that this maiden wasn’t from the family of Avraham, and the distinct possibility that it may end in failure, it was still a moment to relish.

Do we ever truly know whether our successes are to our benefit, or our failures are to our detriment? What matters most is being aware and thrilled that we are constantly being guided by the loving hand of Providence.

When one digests this idea properly, one is prevented from destructive overzealousness in achieving our goals, nor demolished when things fail to live up to our expectations. Anxiety has no place when we sense the presence of the Divine.

Might I suggest, that the verse isn’t describing Eliezer’s astonished anticipation of success as it would superficially seem. Rather the verse should be read as follows:

והאיש משתאה לה - The man was astonished,

מחריש לדעת- silencing his need to know,

ההצליח ד' דרכו אם לא - whether he would achieve success or not.

This former servant, who was vulnerable to the shackles of anxiety, expectation and disappointment, implemented the secret to emotional freedom. He took a moment to stop, and not be overtaken by the blind drive for success. He then made sure to look and observe the import of this instant that was due to the ministrations from Above. He then displayed utter silence, to listen carefully, not allowing his instinctive urges to interfere, and instead relish the joy of the experience and the reality of G-d’s presence engaged so personally with him.

Eliezer was now totally freed and truly deserving of the title, איש, a ‘man’ so at one with his Creator, unfettered from the pinions of distorted emotions.

The Midrash in interpreting this unusual moment of משתאה, astonishment, describes how Eliezer was, ממצמץ ומביט, squinting to see. (ב"ר ס ו ובמתנ"כ שם)

The extraordinary Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, points out something fascinating.

When a person is in pain one instinctively squints or shuts one’s eyes.


When a person wants to perceive an object that is far away, he squints in order to better focus his vision. When there is an overwhelming amount of light we squint to filter out the extraneous light. Squinting eliminates the ‘distractions’ that compete for one’s sight. Sometimes though when pain reaches a certain level of intensity, one has to look even further to the ultimate future to ‘see’ the purpose of that pain.(ליקוטי מוהר"ן א  תורה סה סעיף ג)

The word משתאה in its simplest meaning is rooted in the word שהה, to wait.

The first step to regaining healthy perspective is to gain hold of ‘one’s horses’, the raging emotions that overwhelm our spiritual retina.

The next step is to relish the moment, to proverbially squint or if necessary close our eyes completely, and appreciate the journey on the train of Providence we are on.

The word משתאה, has within it the letters that spell out: תהא שם, be there, emphasizing the need to live and enthuse every moment.

Finally we must sense and be conscious of His loving presence in our successes and failures alike.

In this word also lay the letters that spell out: את השם, with G-d, to remain ever cognizant that He is always there cheering us on!

Be a ‘man’ and shed the shackles of slavery to your blind ambitions and distorted emotions.


צבי יהודה טייכמאן