Parshat Chaye Sarah - Eliezer meets Lavan

Eliezer Meets Lavan (and Rivka)

When Eliezer is sent to find a wife for Isaac, he is not told to find a wife specifically from Avraham's family. He is told to get a woman from Avraham's homeland, Ur Casdim. (Notwithstanding that in his recapitulation of the events, Eliezer does claim that Avraham told him to find a woman from his family, that is understood by the commentators to be Eliezer making subtle changes to ingratiate himself. Though in similar cases, commentators have been known to use the rule that "the Torah is lacking in some places and full in others" (see the two stories of the spies.))

Eliezer meets Rivka who is just the woman he is looking for and after giving her gold jewelry, discovers she is from Avraham's family. The Torah then describes how she runs home to tell her family and emphasizes how Lavan her brother notices the jewelry and runs to meet the important and wealthy stranger. The Torah describes his very welcoming gestures. Like his sister, he offers water and animal feed. But no gifts are forthcoming from Eliezer. The reader is told several times that Lavan is Rivka's brother. Why is this repeated?

In the ancient world if there was no father, it was the duty of the brother to marry off his sisters. He would then get the dowry. As the Medrash tells us, Lavan attempted to poison Eliezer, but mistakenly poisoned his own father. Thus when Eliezer made it clear he intended to marry Rivkah to Yitzchak, Lavan again expected gifts, the dowry (Much as Abraham was given gifts by Pharaoh.) This is why the Torah reminds us that Lavan is Rivka's brother, to explain Lavan's expectation of a dowry. In fact, Lavan never asks explicitly for his dowry fee, instead he points out that they are family and therefore supports the wedding.

To Lavan's great disappointment, Eliezer gives the dowry to Rivka herself, giving only Migdanot to Lavan and his mother. Migdanot , says Rashi, are fruits of the Land of Israel. So while Rivka got gold again, Lavan only got some fruits. And to add insult to deprivation, Lavan's mother got the same gift, thus showing that Eliezer made no play as if to be giving Lavan any dowry. It was merely a symbolic gift to the family, not part of Lavan' due as the brother. We can then understand Lavan's reluctance to set Rivkah on her way. He was bitter and was seeking some polite way to extract more money from Eliezer.

The question is then why did Eliezer slight Lavan so? We might say that Abraham instructed him to do so, feeling that family did not need to be paid a dowry. This is difficult if we believe Abraham had no way to know Eliezer would find his family. Furthermore, Abraham was old and the Torah says Eliezer was in control of his household. Thus money matters were primarily in Eliezer's hands. So why did Eliezer not pay the dowry? Did he not know the custom? Did he think family were exempt? All these possibilities seem to me unlikely. More likely is that Eliezer could discern Lavan was a bad person. He was desirous of money too much. He could see this by the way he ran out to greet him with water and food, overly ingratiating himself, smiling sycophantly. The Torah points out to us that Lavan saw the gold given to Rivka. The gold was Lavan's motivation. Eliezer could not in good conscience gift money from the Zadik Abraham to the Rasha Lavan to be used for bad purposes. And so he didn't.

This frustrated and angered Lavan. So when Jacob, the child of this marriage that was an affront to Lavan came empty handed and seeking refuge, Lavan was doubly insulted. Again he is being asked to forgo his money and help a family member. What is in it for him? This kind of thinking , though is precisely what makes Lavan a rasha and what makes him unworthy of wealth. Wealth in the ancient world was something of pride and it indicated one's essential righteousness (Zadikim, mamonam haviva lahem mehayehem). Thus Lavan craved wealth, but it could and should not be his.

So indirectly, Eliezer's behavior lead to Lavan's mistreatment of Jacob. This doesn't justify Lavan, but it shows the dilemma Eliezer was in. If he denies Lavan's desires he will infuriate him and lead to future difficulties, but if he grants them he will strengthen Lavan's hand today which will also be deleterious. Isn't this the very dilemma of the Israeli government today with the Palestinians?

Some Details in the different versions of the Story Eliezer tells

Events as they Transpired Retelling of the Events Meaning
v.7 The Lcrd, Gcd of heaven who took me from my father's house from my birthplace...shall send His Angel... v.40 the Lord whom I have walked before shall send His Angel Avoids emphasizing that Abraham rejected and left his birthplace
v.8 my oath (shavuati) v.41 my curse (?) (alati) A curse is more serious than an oath, so may impress Betuel to comply
v.4 Select the girl from my land, my birthplace v.41 Select her from my family Makes the impression that Abraham specifically wanted Betuel his family and this is an honor to him.
v.22 Eliezer immediately gives her a nose ring and two arm bands, then asks her what family she is v.47 first asks her about her family, then gives her jewelry Shows that her selection is do to her lineage, not her character, again honors the family

Lavan's Delaying Tactics

v.50-51 Lavan and Betuel agree immediately to send Rivka
v.53 Eliezer gives minor presents to mother and brother (father is left out of the list because he died at feast)
v.55 mother and brother try to delay her departure
v.57 Second delay tactic, ask the girl if she wants (maybe she will refuse, she is only 3)

It seems Betuel was willing to send her away, but his sons and wife have a change of heart when they realize they are not getting any material gifts from Eliezer.

Avraham buy Marat Machpelah

1. Why not take it, free? They wouldn't remove her bones later.
2. Why make purchase so public?
3. Nomad has no place, but can't bring his dead with him when he migrates. Therefore he need a burial plot.
4. Avraham is a great and respected man, but he can't know that his children will also be respected. Perhaps they will not be offered a burial spot. Avraham worries about the future generation, that they should have a guaranteed burial spot.
5. He make purchase public so that even after he has died, no one can claim that the land isn't his descendants. So many witnesses make denying it impossible.