Parshat Chayeh Sarah

In Parshat Chayeh Sarah, Avraham Avinu is confronted with the responsibility to find his son a wife.  His formula is surprising.  Turning to his major domo, the Canaanite slave Eliezer, in whom he has entrusted supervision over all that he has, Avraham sends him on a journey into history with these words: “[Do] not take a wife for my son from the daughters of Canaan in whose midst I reside.  Rather, go to my land and to my birthplace, and take [from there] a wife for my son, for Yitzhak.”  (24:3-4)  “Hashem , the G-d of Heaven Who took me out from the house of my father and from the land of my birthplace and Who spoke to me and Who swore to me, saying ‘to your seed I will confer this Land’ – He will send His angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there.”  (24.:7).   In other words – Padan Aram still is “my land,” and I don’t want a daughter-in-law who was born in the Land to which G-d brought me and where my generations will establish their nation. (Ramban places the locus at Charan, while Rashi sees Charan as being the place of Avraham’s “father’s house” and Ur-Kasdim as Avraham’s “birthplace.” 24:7)

This is the Avraham whom Hashem had commanded at the opening of Parshat Lekh L’kha: “Go for yourself from your landand from your birthplace and from your father’s house to the Land that I shall show you.” (12:1)  And Avraham did so.  A Land good enough to house an eternal nation, but not to cultivate a suitable matriarch.

So, at the outset of Avraham’s public life, Hashem removed him from the cultural influences and deviances of his parents and his extended family in Charan, showing him a Land of promise in a Promised Land.  And then, at the twilight of his life on this earth, Avraham wants nothing more precious for his son than a lady from back in the Charan he abandoned – a region that Avraham, a veritable lifetime later, calls “my” land and birthplace.

Was Avraham looking back, yearning for the culture he had left behind all these years in Charan – “his” land?  And if Eliezer, that Damascene servant-turned-Torah scholar (Yoma 28b)  with whom Avraham had entrusted so much – and in whom he now was entrusting the fateful search for the second Matriarch of the Jewish People – himself had a daughter whom he wished to marry to Yitzhak, why was Avraham directing his life’s journey back to its beginnings in Aram?

The Chatam Sofer suggests that Avraham intuited that there remained certain great spiritual neshamot in Charan, yet to be discovered for their greatness – neshamot like those of Rivkah, Rachel, and Leah. 

Moreover, it appears that Avraham individuated between the idolatrous deviances of the Terach-Nachor family line from which he emanated in Charan and the extraordinary perversions of morality in Canaan.  Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch saw the idolatry of Charan as a terrible intellectual error of judgment, yet not comparable to the perversions of morality so rampant in Canaan. Canaan is synonymous with the worst of abominations (9:25; Vayikra 18:24-28).  By contrast, in a world with limited Jewish yichus options and no Jewish neighborhoods or shadchans, Charan was the closest there was to the cultural code that, for all its deviances, could give rise to an Avraham – and that proved capable of nurturing three Matriarchs.

Avraham knew Yitzhak well.  It would be Avraham’s destiny to grow great by keeping distant from those who could impact on him most adversely – his parents and the influences of his childhood neighborhood.  But he was strong and otherwise could ward off the culture around him in the new land of Canaan, a place where he always was alien.  By contrast, Yitzhak had grown up in a safe house in Canaan.   With Sarah guarding the home from the Hagars and Yishmaels, that home may have made the neighborhood in Canaan seem like a makom Torah, deceptively safe but spiritually destructive.  Avraham therefore turned back to his birthplace for a daughter-in-law with lineage utterly alien to Canaan, shielding their home from the Canaanite neighbors and their influences of perversion, reminding Yitzhak of his family’s Charan roots.  Avraham had always been a cultural outsider –  “I am an alien and a resident among you . . . .”(23:4).   But Yitzhak was native to Canaan and, unlike Avraham and Yaakov who ventured far abroad, would be commanded to remain continually within its borders (26:2-3). 

If Avraham needed protection from those closest to him – his family – but was spiritually safe among those alien to him in Canaan, Yitzhak needed protection from those closest to him – his neighbors and, as Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch notes, the Canaanite in-laws that would have come with any Canaanite wife.  Rav Avigdor Miller sees in Avraham’s intent to reduce influences on Yitzhak’s development an understanding as to why Avraham did not arrange a marriage for Yitzhak into the family of Malki-tzedek, probably the man closest to Hashem among all in that region. (14:18 -20).  Similarly, Breishit Rabbah (59:8) sees Avraham as having intended to prevent any shidduch with the families of Aner, Eshkol, or Mamreh, despite their allegiances to him.  (14:24) Certainly, by the next  generation, Esav would be sucked in, marrying into the Canaanite culture of corruption. (28:8, 36:2)  For Yitzhak’s lifelong shelter, by contrast, a wife alien to Canaan, herself with relatives living far away, was a most fittingezer k’negdo to help him grow safely, unperverted by the surrounding corrupted culture.