The טעמי המקרא act as punctuation, giving hints to the non-verbal meaning of the text. This week’s parasha contains a rare one, the שלשלת:
There are only four in the entire Torah, and it seems to indicate hesitancy (which may be connected to the Ashkenazi way of singing it, with a long wavering tone). The first, (בראשית יט:טז) וַֽיִּתְמַהְמָ֓הּ ׀ is explicitly when Lot is hesitant about escaping Sodom; the next, (בראשית לט:ח) וַיְמָאֵ֓ן ׀ is when Joseph is trying to withstand Potiphar’s wife. The last, (ויקרא ח:כג) וַיִּשְׁחָ֓ט ׀ is when Moshe offer’s his last sacrifice and makes Aharon the High Priest. There are 3 more instances in נ״ך, arguably also in cases of hesitancy: (ישעיהו יג:ח)וְֽנִבְהָ֓לוּ ׀, (עמוס א:ב) וַיֹּאמַ֓ר ׀ and (עזרא ה:טו) וַאֲמַר־לֵ֓הּ ׀ but I won’t go into them now. But why would עבד אברהם be hesitant about praying for help finding a wife for יצחק? We all know the aggadah, based on a textual oddity in his speech:
The Gra adds that this hesitancy, the hint that Eliezer didn’t really want his mission to succeed, is in fact implied by the wording of the text:
The problem is that Eliezer doesn’t use the אֵלָי כתיב language when he is asking Avraham what to do (this is a problem for Rashi, not the Gra). He only uses it when he is retelling the story to Rivkah’s family.
But Rashi goes further. He says that Eliezer actually proposed his daughter for Yitzchak, and Avraham turned him down:
The “curse” goes back to Eliezer’s ancestor, Canaan:
And the midrash that is Rashi’s source describes Eliezer weighing whether to push his daughter into this match:
But why should a far-distant ancestor matter? Are curses inherited? Are Canaanites genetically inferior? Eliezer has been perfectly faithful, and has managed Avraham’s affairs for the past 65 years:
Is Avraham so racist that he will not consider marrying a descendant of Canaan, that he assumes בידו מאזני מרמה? And even if we read it like the Kotzker, that the conversation only happened in Eliezer’s mind, it still implies that the one who knew Avraham best thought he was a racist!
It’s clear Rashi doesn’t think so. He assumes that if Eliezer fails to find a wife for Yitzchak, then he (Yitzchak) will marry a Canaanite:
The Maharal explains:
So the curse of Canaan isn’t genetic. We need to look at it further. What does ארור כנען; עבד עבדים יהיה לאחיו mean? Erel Segal-Halevi has an interesting interpretation:
עבדות is a mindset, of living in the moment, with no sense of long-term goals. It means only reacting to what is, not trying to have an effect on the world. It is what חם demonstrated and what he taught to his children, and what they had to overcome. עבדות is very comfortable; it means that I don’t have to make any hard decisions.
And Eliezer was the consummate עבד. It’s interesting to see how the text portrays him. Here are all the phrases where he is the subject of the verb:
He starts as העבד, but when he realizes that his prayers were answered, he becomes an איש. And Lavan recognizes him as ברוך rather than ארור. But when he recounts his tale, he becomes a עבד again. He looks at himself and realizes that he really is comfortable as עבד אברהם, even though it means (in his imagined conversation with his master), אין ארור מדבק בברוך.
The עבד cannot become a founder of בני ישראל because that self-image of עבדות is incompatible with our mission: