By Rabbi Gavriel Tatz
In this week’s Parshah Avraham sends his servant Eliezer to find a wife for Yitzchak from Avraham’s birthplace – Aram Nahara’im. Eliezer then asks Avraham: אוּלַי לֹא תֹאבֶה הָאִשָּׁה לָלֶכֶת אַחֲרַי אֶל הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת הֶהָשֵׁב אָשִׁיב אֶת בִּנְךָ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יָצָאתָ מִשָּׁם – Perhaps the woman will not want to come back with me? Should I take Yitzchak there?
Later, after Eliezer has found Rivkah and seen that she is the right one, he relates to her family the events that led up to him finding her. He starts with Avraham commanding him to go and find a wife etc. and he tells them that he asked Avraham ‘maybe she won’t want to come?’ And here when the Torah writes the question ‘אֻלַי לֹא תֹאבֶה …’ it is written with a very slight difference: the word אֻלַי is spelt without a vav. When the Torah is telling the story and Eliezer asks the question it is written as it usually written in the rest of the Torah – with a vav: Aleph, Vav, Lamed, Yud. However, when Eliezer is telling the story it is written without the vav: Aleph, Lamed, Yud. This can also be read as אֵלַי – to me. What is the meaning of this?
Rashi quoting the Medrash tells us that the Torah is hinting to us that Eliezer had a daughter that he was hoping would marry Yitzchak. So behind the question of ‘maybe she won’t come’ was a hope that Avraham would choose his daughter instead. Avraham said to Eliezer that it was not to be – ‘My son is blessed (9:26, 14:19, 17:16, 18:18-19) and you are cursed (9:25) and a cursed one cannot join with a blessed one.’
However, the question is, why does the Torah only change the spelling when Eliezer is relating the story and not when it actually takes place?
The Vilna Gaon points out that in the Torah there are two ways one can say ‘maybe something will/won’t happen’: one is אוּלָי and the other is פֶּן. The difference is that when you do not want the thing to happen you say פֶּן. There are many examples; one of them is in the Shema: (Devarim 11:16) הִשָּׁמְרוּ לָכֶם פֶּן יִפְתֶּה לְבַבְכֶם – be wary lest your hearts will stray. This is obviously something undesired. Whereas when Avraham was praying on behalf on Sodom he said to Hashem אוּלַי יֵשׁ חֲמִשִּׁים צַדִּיקִם בְּתוֹךְ הָעִיר – maybe the city has fifty Tzadikim… and then Hashem would not destroy it.
So when Eliezer asked Avraham, ‘Maybe she won’t come,’ he subconsciously used the word אוּלַי because deep down he was hoping that she wouldn’t come and Yitzchak would marry his daughter. Even though the more appropriate word would have been פֶּן; after all Avraham wanted this mission to be successful and as his servant that is what he should want too – the possibility that it would not succeed should not be desired. In other words, on a conscious level he also wanted it to succeed but subconsciously he did not.
So in truth, when the Torah relates what Eliezer said we can see the hint regarding his hopes for his daughter. However, at the time Eliezer did not realize his hidden feelings. It was only now, that he could see that Rivkah was definitely going to be Yitzchack’s wife and his hopes for his daughter were no longer a possibility, he could look back and appreciate that he had been subconsciously hoping that the mission would fail. So now when he is recounting the story he says אֻלַי – I can now see that I said אוּלַי and not פֶן because of אֵלָי – because of me.
When a person has a vested interest in something it can cloud his perception and often only when his personal desires are no longer possible or relevant can he see the extent of his blindness. One has to be able to look deep into oneself and ask: What is really driving me? Why do I want this so much? Why do I have this opinion? In this way we can constantly evaluate and re-adjust our priorities and ensure that they are L’shem Shamayim.