This week’s סדרה opens up with Sarah’s death and a lengthy description of Avraham’s acquiring of מערת המכפלה as a burial ground for her and future generations of Jews. In continuing with פרשת חיי שרה’s theme of life cycle events, Avraham sends his trusted servant Eliezer to find a wife for his son Yitzchak, in order to ensure a fulfillment of G-d’s promise that his descendants would be numerous like the sand and stars.
Avraham gives Eliezer a lot of latitude with the assignment, only asking, truly begging, his servant:
אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תִקַּח אִשָּׁה, לִבְנִי, מִבְּנוֹת הַכְּנַעֲנִי, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי יוֹשֵׁב בְּקִרְבּוֹ.
So that you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell. (בראשית כד:ג)
Avraham then advises Eliezer to go to Haran to find a wife from the children of his brother Nachor, but the main and only condition that our first patriarch puts on finding the next matriarch is that she should not be a Canaanite.
Reading this, we can’t help but wonder why Avraham was so against his son marrying a Canaanite girl. It couldn’t be because they were idol worshippers- after all, Avraham’s own family were also עובדי עבודה זרה. What about the כנענים made them so unfit that Avraham immediately rejects the idea of marrying his family into theirs?
Radak gives a very straightforward answer, by reminding us of ancient history which we read only a few weeks ago:
מבנות הכנעני – כי זרע כנען ארור וזרעו ברוך, ולא יתערב זרע ברוך בארור
From the Daughters of the Canaanites– Because the descendants of Canaanites were cursed, and his (Avraham’s) descendants were blessed. There should not be any mingling of the cursed and the blessed. (רד”ק שם)
Radak reminds us that at the end of פרשת נח, Ham’s disrespect of his father Noach led to his descendants, the Canaanites, being cursed. It would not do for the next generation of G-d’s chosen nation, descended from the blessed Shem, to also have roots in a cursed nation. So, Avraham sent Eliezer to find a wife for Yitzchak from other descendants of Shem, to avoid mixing with the cursed Canaanites.
After Eliezer leaves, as he approaches Haran, his concern for Yitzchak becomes apparent as he realizes how much leeway Avraham has given him for choosing Yitzchak’s wife. So, Eliezer creates a test which he tells as an aside to Hashem, the donkeys, and us. He prepares a scenario where he will ask a girl for help drawing water to drink, and if she also offers water to his camels, then she will be the one.
While this Is a very insightful test, we must wonder why Eliezer thought it was necessary to add conditions to his search. Avraham had made it very clear that he didn’t want Yitzchak to marry a כנענית- why did he see fit to test her with buckets of water as well?
Malbim answers that Eliezer truly wanted to fulfill his master’s missive of finding the perfect wife for Yitzchak. Avraham had told him to find a wife from his family, not from the Canaanites- but as we know from recent stories about Lot, Avraham’s family were not exactly perfect either. Eliezer wanted to go a step further and find a woman with the correct מידות to complement with חסד the amazing גבורה that our second forefather is known for, so he devised a test to find the girl with the best מידות, to see who would care so much for a stranger to even offer his camels water first before taking for herself.
We see from here an important lesson. Lineage is a very important factor in a person’s character, but having good ancestry is not always enough to make a person good. What is often more important than lineage is one’s character, how one develops himself over time. Eliezer’s search in our סדרה shows us that what one makes of themselves is often more important than where he begin, because oftentimes someone with good lineage can end somewhere bad, without the proper intervention.
We need look no further than this week’s הפטרה to see a prime example of this. The reading, taken from the beginning of ספר מלכים, deals with a lot of the same life cycle issues that are featured in our סדרה, as King David enters his final years and seeks out an heir for his throne. But, it also shows a prime example of character over lineage, as David’s son Adoniya steps up and rebels against the chosen heir Shlomo. Very early on, the פסוקים tell us why Adoniya would try this evil deed of overthrowing the rightful king:
וְלֹא־עֲצָבוֹ אָבִיו מִיָּמָיו לֵאמֹר מַדּוּעַ כָּכָה עָשִׂיתָ…
And his father (David) never told him off saying: ‘why have you done this?’… (מלכים א א:ו)
Virtually all of the מפרשים there explain these words as criticism of David’s parenting skills. How could Adoniya, son of one of the greatest תלמידי חכם and writers, raised in the palace, develop such bad מידות? Because David, seeing his son of “טוב תאר מאד” (just like Rivka), never disciplined him. It would seem that דוד המלך learned a difficult lesson that family psychologists millennia later would dub “over-permissibility.” While too much discipline is never productive, if a child is never told when he is doing something wrong, he will grow up thinking he is always right, creating a monster. If Adoniya would have received more discipline as a child, he may not have assumed that everyone would want him to be king, which may have prevented the catastrophic uprising which haunted Shlomo’s first few years as king.
In our times, we are also facing a similar lack of discipline in children and are already beginning to see the scary results. A survey by the London-based Daily Mail newspaper several years ago found that of those adults polled who, when growing up received some form of discipline from their parents, 93% grew up respecting their elders and did not need to be told twice that they were doing something wrong. However, these same adults who saw the results of proper discipline were not reciprocating to the next generation, as a whopping 40% were afraid to tell their children off, because they wanted their children to have “an easier life.” 25% of respondents were already seeing negative results of their improper parenting, seeing their children not properly responding to the few times they were actually scolded. While the survey concluded “it seems children these days get a far easier ride than parents did 20 or 30 years ago,” the truth is this trend will only do bad things for the world. With the youngest generation now believing they are always right, what will happen when they are wrong? Will they, like Adoniya, go off on a destructive rampage because they know no one will stop them? Will they, like Laban, become con men, making money the easy way because their parents were too scared to tell them not to?
Parents in our generation have a unique challenge- brining discipline to a culture which above all praises ignoring authority. We cannot go easy on our children because they do not respond well to criticism. If we do, we will have created a monster like דוד המלך inadvertently did, and their damage, destruction, and bloodshed is on our heads.
We must learn from Eliezer’s insight that the apple does sometimes fall from far from the tree, and Yirmiyahu’s (as the author of ספר מלכים) insight that a lack of discipline creates a monster. We work hard to make sure the next generation of Jews are properly disciplined and respect authority, both earthly and otherwise, to ensure that our people continues to grow and Avraham’s culture of growth is instilled in the next generation, and not the modern culture of destruction.