We read in Parashat Lekh-Lekha of God’s promise to Avraham that he would be receiving great reward, in response to which Avraham complained about the fact that he had not begotten any children, leaving his servant, Eliezer, as his only heir (15:2). In voicing this complaint, Avraham refers to Eliezer with the term “damesek Eliezer,” which likely means that Eliezer originated from the region of Damesek (Damascus), as Targum Onkelos explains. The Gemara (Yoma 28b), however, as Rashi cites, offers a Midrashic reading of the term “damesek,” interpreting it as a contraction of the words “doleh u-mashkeh” (literally, “draws and gives to drink”). This term, according to the Gemara’s reading, refers to Eliezer’s drawing Torah wisdom from his master, Avraham, and then sharing it with others.
Why is this quality of Eliezer relevant specifically in this context, when Avraham expresses his fear that he would not beget children and Eliezer would inherit his estate?
Rav Dov Weinberger, in his Shemen Ha-tov, answers by noting that in the Gemara’s description, all the work and action is attributed to Eliezer. The phrase “doleh u-mashkeh” implies that Eliezer made the effort to “draw” wisdom from Avraham, without requiring much effort and exertion on Avraham’s part. Possibly, then, this reading of the term “damesek Eliezer” underscores the difference between an heir like Eliezer, and children. Raising and educating a child entails a great amount of effort, initiative and active involvement on the parents’ part. The process of child-rearing cannot be described as “doleh u-mashkeh,” as one where the child simply draws knowledge and guidance from the parent. The parent must work hard to impact upon and educate the child; passivity is not an option.
This is the difference between teaching Eliezer and raising children, and this is the perspective with which the Gemara wanted us to view Avraham’s complaint. He was not content with students who were “doleh u-mashkeh,” who eagerly and readily took what he offered, accepted his teachings, followed his example, and then set out to have others do the same. He desired the great challenge of child-rearing, the awesome responsibility and task of passing on his beliefs, values and teachings to children. It is specifically because this process is so difficult and daunting that Avraham was so eager to embark upon it, understanding the value of hard work and that significant, long-lasting achievements – such as raising and educating children – are the ones that involve effort and toil, and not those which come easily.