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Details, Details

Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18 )

by Rabbi Yehoshua Berman

The topic that occupies the bulk of this week's parsha is the search for Yitzchak's wife. Avraham sends his faithful servant, Eliezer, on a mission to visit Avraham's family and find a suitable match. Clearly, this is a matter of the utmost importance and significance: the next link in the formation of the Jewish People is at stake!

Amazingly, right in the middle of this spectacular sequence of events we find details of Eliezer taking care of the camels (e.g. removing their muzzles when they are brought into the family's property, providing them with food, etc., Gen. 24:30,32). One cannot help but wonder why these seemingly petty details appear in the middle of a subject which is of such incredible significance.

Imagine that while reporting to the president on the most recent developments regarding the nation-wide lawsuits against healthcare reform, the messenger would also update him on how the cleaning help properly carried out their responsibility to mop the floors of the oval office.

This issue can be resolved with the answer to a similar question.

Before appointing Moshe as the liberator and leader of the Jewish People, Hashem tested Moshe by checking (as it were) how he would take care of his sheep. Moshe passed the test with flying colors, as we see from when, on a particular occasion, one of the sheep wandered off and showed signs of fatigue, Moshe displayed extraordinary mercy by carrying the sheep back to the flock. This served as an indication of Moshe's general sense of responsibility and care, thus proving him fit to lead the Jewish People.

Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, quoting Rabbi Tzadok of Lublin, pointed out that at first glance, this seems rather odd. Wouldn't it make more sense to test a leader with something like a great act of heroism or self-sacrifice? Doesn't taking care of sheep seem a bit too mundane to be the barometer of who is fitting to be a great leader?

He answered that momentous acts of heroism and the like do not necessarily demonstrate the true character of a person. In such unique moments of particularly great significance, one can be filled with a rush of adrenalin that enables him to perform acts that are generally not in consonance with his true character.

Successfully leading a nation requires being able to live up to the far-more-formidable task of properly dealing with the day-in-and-day-out "nitty-gritty" details of life. It is the ability to act with kindness and compassion, mercy and understanding, on an ongoing basis - and in all of the endless minutiae of daily living - that is the real litmus test of true greatness. As such, Moshe's conduct regarding caring for his sheep was the perfect indication of whether or not he would be able to successfully lead the Jewish People.

With this principle, we can now answer our original question. Eliezer was in the midst of one of the most important missions imaginable - to find the next matriarch of the Jewish People. At this moment of pomp and glamour, of great consequence and magnitude, the Torah is teaching us that the real test of morality lies in not forgetting about the "small" details. The fact that Eliezer is involved in such a substantial endeavor does not change the fact that the camels that are with him do not belong to him; they are the property of his master Avraham, placed under his charge, and it is his responsibility to properly care for them.

It is by not losing sight of these "small" details that Eliezer's true colors as a genuinely moral individual come shining through in all their brilliant light. It is this phenomenal lesson that the Torah is teaching us by telling us about these details in the middle of this most weighty matter: true greatness is to be found in properly dealing with the myriad, "small" details of daily life.

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