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The man was astonished at her, reflecting silently to know whether Hashem had made his journey successful or not. (Bereishis 24:21)
In this week’s parsha we learn about shidduchim. The Torah tells us how Avraham sent his loyal servant Eliezer back to his birthplace to seek out a mate for his son Yitzchak.
When Eliezer arrived at his destination he stood by a well and prayed that Hashem arrange an appropriate match for Yitzchak by sending a girl to offer him and his camels a drink from the well. Before he had a chance to conclude his prayers, Rivkah appeared and offered him and his camels a drink from the well. At this point the posuk tells us that Eliezer was in a state of shock. The Hebrew word the posuk uses is mish’ta’ei. Rashi explains that Eliezer was in shock that his mission was just about complete.
We may note that shock can occur as a result of two very different events. A person may be shocked over good news or over bad news. Usually when one is shocked over good news his spirits are lifted and he is filled with happiness and strength. On the other hand when one is shocked over bad news or witnesses something horrible he is overtaken with a feeling of despair, helplessness and weakness.
In the context of our parsha we would assume that the shock Eliezer experienced was due to the good news that his mission was just about complete. However, when Rashi elaborates on this precise meaning of the word mish’ta’ei, he cites an example from a posuk in sefer Yih’sha’yah. There Hashem tells Yih’sha’yah the prophet that the Jewish people will not repent for their sins “until cities will be desolate without inhabitants and houses without people and the ground lies waste as desolate” (Isaiah 6:11). Rashi explains here that the word for shock contains the same root as the word used in Isaiah for desolation. When one gazes upon the site of utter desolation he is overcome with a feeling of shock.
It seems from Rashi that the precise use of this word here in our parsha indicates a shock over the receiving of bad news or witnessing something horrible. This seems difficult, for the simple context of the posukim seems to indicate that it was a happy moment when Eliezer so quickly found a mate for Yitzchak.
We may answer this question by suggesting two ideas. Later in the parsha Rashi tells us that Eliezer himself had a daughter and wanted her to marry Yitzchak. Avraham let him know that under no circumstance would this come to be. As long as Eliezer had not yet found a mate for Yitzchak he entertained the possibility that perhaps Avraham would one day change his mind. Now that he saw Rivkah and realized that it would truly never happen the feeling of disappointment fully set in.
On a deeper level we may suggest that Eliezer realized from the start that he would not merit to have Yitzchak as a son-in-law. However, he was satisfied with the fact that he would be the one who would decide whom Yitzchak would marry. Eliezer realized that history would record him as the one who found an appropriate mate for Eliezer. His exceptional persuasive capabilities and his charismatic persona would be instrumental in convincing the prospective girl to marry Yitzchak. To this effect he prepared ten fully loaded camels for what he believed was a long and difficult mission.
However, shortly thereafter he discovered that he had miraculously accomplished his goal in only a few hours. Before he even concluded his prayers Rivkah was standing in his presence. Eliezer realized that he and his great talents were not needed. It was too easy. The entire matter was a done deal. The shidduch had a life of its own.
There is great satisfaction in the feeling of accomplishment that comes through hard work. Eliezer was greatly disappointed for the matter was achieved without any effort whatsoever. “From Hashem the matter has gone forth” (Bereishis 24:50). The posuk therefore expresses his shock with a word that connotes a shock that brings with it a feeling of despair, disappointment and weakness.
It is customary to break an earthenware utensil at the time when the ta’nayim document is signed. The word ta’nayim literally means “conditions.” The ta’nayim is a document that states that two people, the future bride and groom, agree to marry. They or their families pledge to provide for the forthcoming marriage certain basic necessities. Originally the ta’nayim document was signed at the time of the engagement much before the wedding day. Today many sign it on the wedding day itself. The commentators give various reasons as to why we break an earthenware utensil at the signing of this document. One of the reasons given is that just as a shattered earthenware utensil can never be restored, likewise once an engagement is finalized it may not be broken. Indeed the commentators tell us that it is better to get married and then divorced than to break an engagement. Another reason for breaking an earthenware utensil is to remind us not to get to get too carried away with the festivities of the celebration. We rejoice with trepidation.
It should be noted that the custom to break an earthenware utensil at the signing of the ta’nayim is not to be confused with the custom to break a glass goblet at the conclusion of the wedding ceremony. After the wedding ceremony, it is specifically a glass goblet and not an earthenware utensil that is broken. The commentators tell us that the main reason for this custom is to remember the destruction of Yerushalayim and pray and yearn for its restoration. Just as broken glass may be restored by melting it into a new goblet likewise Yerushalayim will one day be fully rebuilt.
We may also suggest that we break an earthenware utensil at the signing of the ta’nayim as a symbolic reenactment of Eliezer’s reaction in meeting Rivkah for the first time. Eliezer was shocked. It was not a shock of happiness but rather a shock of disappointment and helplessness as if he witnessed desolation. Similarly, the signing of the ta’nayim marks the finalization of the engagement. This moment corresponds to the moment when Eliezer realized that he had met the girl who would marry Yitzchak. He realized that his grand plans of seeking “the one and only” for Yitzchak were all for nothing. He was not needed in this search. He was expendable. The shidduch was already arranged.
When we permanently destroy an earthenware utensil at the conclusion of the engagement, we likewise evoke the shocking feeling of desolation and helplessness. An expensive utensil has been destroyed and will never be restored. We acknowledge the fact that although seemingly much effort may have been expended into the making of this shidduch the truth is that we are not instrumental in its outcome. “From Hashem the matter gone forth.”
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5764/2003