SALT - Tuesday, 18 Cheshvan 5778 - November 7, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg
            We read in Parashat Chayei-Sara of Avraham’s servant’s experiences at the well outside Aram Naharayim, where he asked God to arrange that the girl suited to marry Yitzchak would be the one who offers to draw water for both him and his camels after he asks for water.  After the servant saw how Rivka drew water for all his camels in response to his request for some water, the Torah writes, he “took a gold nose ring…and two bracelets” (24:22). 
            A number of commentators noted that a verb seems to have been omitted from this verse.  The Torah here tells of the servant “taking” the jewelry, but does not say that he gave it to Rivka.  Clearly, he took the jewelry to give it to Rivka, and indeed, later, when the servant recounted the events to Rivka’s family, he said, “I placed the nose ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her hands” (24:47).  Curiously, however, the verb “placed” does not appear in the original account. 
            Rashi does not comment on this oddity, and was apparently not troubled by the omission.  Presumably, he felt that since the purpose of taking out the jewelry is obvious and self-evident, the Torah in the interest of brevity did not bother to mention the verb “give.”
            However, the Ramban and the Radak explained this verse differently.  They claimed that upon seeing Rivka draw water for his camels, the servant became hopeful that God answered his prayer and she was the intended match, as he had requested.   He therefore prepared the jewelry, in anticipation of giving it to the girl.  The servant did not give the jewelry to Rivka, however, until after he inquired about her family background, and she informed him that she was a granddaughter of Avraham’s brother, Nachor.  Only at that point, when the servant realized that indeed, his prayer was answered, as Avraham had specifically instructed him to find a wife for Yitzchak from his family in Aram Naharayim (24:38), did he give the jewelry to Rivka. 
            On the basis of reading, the Ramban and Radak reconcile the sequence of events as presented in the Torah’s initial account with the servant’s narration of the events when speaking to Rivka’s family.  The servant told the family that he gave Rivka the jewelry only after she identified herself as Nachor’s granddaughter (24:47), and not before, whereas the initial account speaks of the servant producing the jewelry even before Rivka identified herself.  The explanation, according to these commentators, is that the servant merely prepared the jewelry before inquiring about Rivka’s family background, and then gave it to her afterward.  This approach is in contrast to the view of Rashi, who, commenting on the servant’s description of the events to the family (24:47), writes that the servant gave an inaccurate report.  He in truth gave Rivka the jewelry before inquiring about her family, but, realizing this would sound unusual, dishonestly said that he gave the jewelry only afterward. 
            Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenberg, in his Ha-ketav Ve-ha’kabbala, offers a characteristically novel and creative theory to explain this verse.  He seeks to demonstrate that the word “kach,” which generally means “take,” can also be used to mean “tie” or “bind.”  Rav Mecklenberg draws our attention to a verse in Sefer Yeshayahu (61:1) in which the prophet describes his role as proclaiming, “Pekach koach” – that the Israelite captives shall be freed.  The word “koach” (derived from the same root as the verb “kach”) here refers to the bonds tied around prisoners which would be eventually be untied.  Accordingly, Rav Mecklenberg suggests, when the Torah says about Avraham’s servant, “Va-yikach” – which is generally translated as “he took” the jewelry – it could be understood to mean that he tied the jewelry onto Rivka.
            Rav Mecklenberg points also to the Mishna in Masekhet Keilim (16:4) which discusses the susceptibility of leather bags for tum’a (ritual impurity).  Tum’a cannot descend upon an item before its production is complete and it is ready for use, and in the case of a leather bag, the Mishna rules, the final stages of production include making the “kichot” – the straps used to close the bag.  Once again, the root is used in reference to tying.
            Extending this theory further, Rav Mecklenberg proposes that this explains the use of the word “lekach” to mean effective teaching and instruction.  When a teacher or lecturer succeeds in delivering his message, there is a certain bonding that occurs between the teacher and the students.  By the same token, he writes, the famous verse in Sefer Mishlei (4:2) refers to Torah knowledge as “lekach” – “Ki lekakh tov natati lakhem” – because Torah study has the effect of binding a person to the Almighty.  As Torah connects us with our Creator, it is referred to as “lekach,” which has the meaning of “bind” or “tie.”