Friday, November 05, 2004

Chayyei Sarah #2: Was the servant of Avraham Eliezer?

In this week's parsha we read extensively of the actions of the servant of Avraham, but are not given his name. Chazal identify him as Eliezer. In part, this is a result of a closed-canon approach - that when encountering an otherwise unknown character in Tanach, we associate him or her with some character we already know of within the canon. { the books of the Bible officially accepted as Holy Scripture.} Since the only servant of Avraham we know of is Eliezer, it stands to reason that this servant is Eliezer. The alternative is an open-canon approach, in which if some new character occurs we will say he is someone new that we do not encounter elsewhere.

One might be inclined to assume the closed-canon approach is more midrashic, and an open canon more peshat-based. In this case this assumption might not be warranted.

Consider. Bereishit 15:1-4 states:
א אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, הָיָה דְבַר-ה אֶל-אַבְרָם, בַּמַּחֲזֶה, לֵאמֹר: אַל-תִּירָא אַבְרָם, אָנֹכִי מָגֵן לָךְ--שְׂכָרְךָ, הַרְבֵּה מְאֹד. 1 After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying: 'Fear not, Abram, I am thy shield, thy reward shall be exceeding great.'
ב וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָם, ה אלקים מַה-תִּתֶּן-לִי, וְאָנֹכִי, הוֹלֵךְ עֲרִירִי; וּבֶן-מֶשֶׁק בֵּיתִי, הוּא דַּמֶּשֶׂק אֱלִיעֶזֶר. 2 And Abram said: 'O Lord GOD, what wilt Thou give me, seeing I go hence childless, and he that shall be possessor of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?'
ג וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָם--הֵן לִי, לֹא נָתַתָּה זָרַע; וְהִנֵּה בֶן-בֵּיתִי, יוֹרֵשׁ אֹתִי. 3 And Abram said: 'Behold, to me Thou hast given no seed, and, lo, one born in my house is to be mine heir.'
ד וְהִנֵּה דְבַר-ה אֵלָיו לֵאמֹר, לֹא יִירָשְׁךָ זֶה: כִּי-אִם אֲשֶׁר יֵצֵא מִמֵּעֶיךָ, הוּא יִירָשֶׁךָ. 4 And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying: 'This man shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.'
Thus we are told that Avraham's expectation is that דַּמֶּשֶׂק אֱלִיעֶזֶר, who seems to be a servant born in his house.

Why do I say he seems to be a servant? Well, he certainly is not a son of Avraham, for Avraham has no son yet. And the term ben beiti, "one born in my house," seems to be equal to the term yelid bayit. And what is a yelid bayit? Well, consider Bereishit 17:12-13, where Avraham is told to circumcise the members of his household:

יב וּבֶן-שְׁמֹנַת יָמִים, יִמּוֹל לָכֶם כָּל-זָכָר--לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם: יְלִיד בָּיִת--וּמִקְנַת-כֶּסֶף מִכֹּל בֶּן-נֵכָר, אֲשֶׁר לֹא מִזַּרְעֲךָ הוּא. 12 And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every male throughout your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any foreigner, that is not of thy seed.
יג הִמּוֹל יִמּוֹל יְלִיד בֵּיתְךָ, וּמִקְנַת כַּסְפֶּךָ; וְהָיְתָה בְרִיתִי בִּבְשַׂרְכֶם, לִבְרִית עוֹלָם. 13 He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised; and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.
And in Yirmiyahu 2:14:

יד הַעֶבֶד, יִשְׂרָאֵל--אִם-יְלִיד בַּיִת, הוּא: מַדּוּעַ, הָיָה לָבַז. 14 Is Israel a servant? Is he a home-born slave? Why is he become a prey?

Thus Eliezer seems to be a slave, born to Avraham's house and reaching a prominent position such that he is slated to inherit Avraham.

Then, in Chayyei Sarah, we are told in Bereishit 24:1-2:

א וְאַבְרָהָם זָקֵן, בָּא בַּיָּמִים; וַיהוָה בֵּרַךְ אֶת-אַבְרָהָם, בַּכֹּל. 1 And Abraham was old, well stricken in age; and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things.
ב וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָהָם, אֶל-עַבְדּוֹ זְקַן בֵּיתוֹ, הַמֹּשֵׁל, בְּכָל-אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ: שִׂים-נָא יָדְךָ, תַּחַת יְרֵכִי. 2 And Abraham said unto his servant, the elder of his house, that ruled over all that he had: 'Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh.
One could assume that the servant one who rules over the entire house would be identical with the one above who was slated to inherit Avraham. He is now an elder of his house since Avraham is at the end of his life and so Eliezer has now been with him for a long time.

But if the servant of Avraham in Chayyei Sarah is indeed Eliezer, why does the Torah not mention it. Why not consistently call him Eliezer? Why "the man" or "the servant?" Would this not suggest that it is in fact a different person?

I offer another question. Why, if it is a different person, is his name not mentioned? At the beginning of the narrative we could have found out the Avraham's servant Baruch was told to seek out a wife for Yitzchak, and then the pesukim could have used Baruch throughout. Instead, throughout we have הָעֶבֶד, "the servant," or הָאִישׁ, "the man."

I think the answer to this lies elsewhere. Consider the beginning of Shemot. In Shemot 2, we read of how "a man from the house of Levi" (אִישׁ, מִבֵּית לֵוִי) took "a daughter {from the house} of Levi" (בַּת-לֵוִי). "The woman" (הָאִשָּׁה) became pregnant and had "a son" (בֵּן). When she could hide him no longer she put "the child" (הַיֶּלֶד) in the bullrushes, and "his sister" (אֲחֹתוֹ) watched from far off. The "daughter of Pharoah" (בַּת-פַּרְעֹה) - {yes, even she has no name!) goes down to the Nile to wash, accompanied by "her maidservants" (וְנַעֲרֹתֶיהָ). She gets "the child" (הַיֶּלֶד) and sees that it is "a boy" (נַעַר) and has mercy on him. "His sister" (אֲחֹתוֹ) asks the "daughter of Pharoah" (בַּת-פַּרְעֹה) if she can get "a woman" (אִשָּׁה) who is a wetnurse. The "daughter of Pharoah" (בַּת-פַּרְעֹה) tells the young girl to go and she goes and fetches "the mother of the child" (אֵם הַיָּלֶד). It continues in this vein.

Later, we find out that it is Moshe, so now we have a name for him. But he grows old and sees an Egyptian hitting an Israelite. Again no names. Moshe kills the Egyptian and hides him in the sand. The next day he sees two Israelites fighting (again no names) and tries to intercede, and one of them asks if he will kill him as he killed the Egyptians. Moshe flees to Midian and dwells be the well. The daughters (no names) of the priest of Midian (no name) face trouble at the hands of the shepherds (no names) and Moshe saves them. Finally, we find (perhaps) that the priest of Midian is named Reuel, and one of his daughters, who marries Moshe, is Tzipporah, and she gives birth to a son, Gershom. But until that point, there is a curious absence of proper nouns. Names are avoided in favor of description of place in society, and where there is no description, there is a pronoun. {Note also that Pharoah is also in fact descriptive rather than a name.}

To show visually where proper nouns could have been (you can find the pronouns for yourself):

א וַיֵּלֶךְ אִישׁ, מִבֵּית לֵוִי; וַיִּקַּח, אֶת-בַּת-לֵוִי. 1 And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi.
ב וַתַּהַר הָאִשָּׁה, וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן; וַתֵּרֶא אֹתוֹ כִּי-טוֹב הוּא, וַתִּצְפְּנֵהוּ שְׁלֹשָׁה יְרָחִים. 2 And the woman conceived, and bore a son; and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months.
ג וְלֹא-יָכְלָה עוֹד, הַצְּפִינוֹ, וַתִּקַּח-לוֹ תֵּבַת גֹּמֶא, וַתַּחְמְרָה בַחֵמָר וּבַזָּפֶת; וַתָּשֶׂם בָּהּ אֶת-הַיֶּלֶד, וַתָּשֶׂם בַּסּוּף עַל-שְׂפַת הַיְאֹר. 3 And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch; and she put the child therein, and laid it in the flags by the river's brink.
ד וַתֵּתַצַּב אֲחֹתוֹ, מֵרָחֹק, לְדֵעָה, מַה-יֵּעָשֶׂה לוֹ. 4 And his sister stood afar off, to know what would be done to him.
ה וַתֵּרֶד בַּת-פַּרְעֹה לִרְחֹץ עַל-הַיְאֹר, וְנַעֲרֹתֶיהָ הֹלְכֹת עַל-יַד הַיְאֹר; וַתֵּרֶא אֶת-הַתֵּבָה בְּתוֹךְ הַסּוּף, וַתִּשְׁלַח אֶת-אֲמָתָהּ וַתִּקָּחֶהָ. 5 And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe in the river; and her maidens walked along by the river-side; and she saw the ark among the flags, and sent her handmaid to fetch it.
ו וַתִּפְתַּח וַתִּרְאֵהוּ אֶת-הַיֶּלֶד, וְהִנֵּה-נַעַר בֹּכֶה; וַתַּחְמֹל עָלָיו--וַתֹּאמֶר, מִיַּלְדֵי הָעִבְרִים זֶה. 6 And she opened it, and saw it, even the child; and behold a boy that wept. And she had compassion on him, and said: 'This is one of the Hebrews' children.'
ז וַתֹּאמֶר אֲחֹתוֹ, אֶל-בַּת-פַּרְעֹה, הַאֵלֵךְ וְקָרָאתִי לָךְ אִשָּׁה מֵינֶקֶת, מִן הָעִבְרִיֹּת; וְתֵינִק לָךְ, אֶת-הַיָּלֶד. 7 Then said his sister to Pharaoh's daughter: 'Shall I go and call thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee?'
ח וַתֹּאמֶר-לָהּ בַּת-פַּרְעֹה, לֵכִי; וַתֵּלֶךְ, הָעַלְמָה, וַתִּקְרָא, אֶת-אֵם הַיָּלֶד. 8 And Pharaoh's daughter said to her: 'Go.' And the maiden went and called the child's mother.
ט וַתֹּאמֶר לָהּ בַּת-פַּרְעֹה, הֵילִיכִי אֶת-הַיֶּלֶד הַזֶּה וְהֵינִקִהוּ לִי, וַאֲנִי, אֶתֵּן אֶת-שְׂכָרֵךְ; וַתִּקַּח הָאִשָּׁה הַיֶּלֶד, וַתְּנִיקֵהוּ. 9 And Pharaoh's daughter said unto her: 'Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages.' And the woman took the child, and nursed it.
י וַיִּגְדַּל הַיֶּלֶד, וַתְּבִאֵהוּ לְבַת-פַּרְעֹה, וַיְהִי-לָהּ, לְבֵן; וַתִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ, מֹשֶׁה, וַתֹּאמֶר, כִּי מִן-הַמַּיִם מְשִׁיתִהוּ. 10 And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses, and said: 'Because I drew him out of the water.'
יא וַיְהִי בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם, וַיִּגְדַּל מֹשֶׁה וַיֵּצֵא אֶל-אֶחָיו, וַיַּרְא, בְּסִבְלֹתָם; וַיַּרְא אִישׁ מִצְרִי, מַכֶּה אִישׁ-עִבְרִי מֵאֶחָיו. 11 And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown up, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens; and he saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren.
יב וַיִּפֶן כֹּה וָכֹה, וַיַּרְא כִּי אֵין אִישׁ; וַיַּךְ, אֶת-הַמִּצְרִי, וַיִּטְמְנֵהוּ, בַּחוֹל. 12 And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he smote the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.
יג וַיֵּצֵא בַּיּוֹם הַשֵּׁנִי, וְהִנֵּה שְׁנֵי-אֲנָשִׁים עִבְרִים נִצִּים; וַיֹּאמֶר, לָרָשָׁע, לָמָּה תַכֶּה, רֵעֶךָ. 13 And he went out the second day, and, behold, two men of the Hebrews were striving together; and he said to him that did the wrong: 'Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow?'
יד וַיֹּאמֶר מִי שָׂמְךָ לְאִישׁ שַׂר וְשֹׁפֵט, עָלֵינוּ--הַלְהָרְגֵנִי אַתָּה אֹמֵר, כַּאֲשֶׁר הָרַגְתָּ אֶת-הַמִּצְרִי; וַיִּירָא מֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמַר, אָכֵן נוֹדַע הַדָּבָר. 14 And he said: 'Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us? thinkest thou to kill me, as thou didst kill the Egyptian?' And Moses feared, and said: 'Surely the thing is known.'
טו וַיִּשְׁמַע פַּרְעֹה אֶת-הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה, וַיְבַקֵּשׁ לַהֲרֹג אֶת-מֹשֶׁה; וַיִּבְרַח מֹשֶׁה מִפְּנֵי פַרְעֹה, וַיֵּשֶׁב בְּאֶרֶץ-מִדְיָן וַיֵּשֶׁב עַל-הַבְּאֵר. 15 Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian; and he sat down by a well.
טז וּלְכֹהֵן מִדְיָן, שֶׁבַע בָּנוֹת; וַתָּבֹאנָה וַתִּדְלֶנָה, וַתְּמַלֶּאנָה אֶת-הָרְהָטִים, לְהַשְׁקוֹת, צֹאן אֲבִיהֶן. 16 Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters; and they came and drew water, and filled the troughs to water their father's flock.
יז וַיָּבֹאוּ הָרֹעִים, וַיְגָרְשׁוּם; וַיָּקָם מֹשֶׁה וַיּוֹשִׁעָן, וַיַּשְׁקְ אֶת-צֹאנָם. 17 And the shepherds came and drove them away; but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock.
יח וַתָּבֹאנָה, אֶל-רְעוּאֵל אֲבִיהֶן; וַיֹּאמֶר, מַדּוּעַ מִהַרְתֶּן בֹּא הַיּוֹם. 18 And when they came to Reuel their father, he said: 'How is it that ye are come so soon to-day?'
יט וַתֹּאמַרְןָ--אִישׁ מִצְרִי, הִצִּילָנוּ מִיַּד הָרֹעִים; וְגַם-דָּלֹה דָלָה לָנוּ, וַיַּשְׁקְ אֶת-הַצֹּאן. 19 And they said: 'An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds, and moreover he drew water for us, and watered the flock.'
כ וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל-בְּנֹתָיו, וְאַיּוֹ; לָמָּה זֶּה עֲזַבְתֶּן אֶת-הָאִישׁ, קִרְאֶן לוֹ וְיֹאכַל לָחֶם. 20 And he said unto his daughters: 'And where is he? Why is it that ye have left the man? call him, that he may eat bread.'
כא וַיּוֹאֶל מֹשֶׁה, לָשֶׁבֶת אֶת-הָאִישׁ; וַיִּתֵּן אֶת-צִפֹּרָה בִתּוֹ, לְמֹשֶׁה. 21 And Moses was content to dwell with the man; and he gave Moses Zipporah his daughter.
כב וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן, וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ גֵּרְשֹׁם: כִּי אָמַר--גֵּר הָיִיתִי, בְּאֶרֶץ נָכְרִיָּה. 22 And she bore a son, and he called his name Gershom; for he said: 'I have been a stranger in a strange land.'
I think that it is eminently obvious that this avoidance of names in Shemot is a deliberate narrative device. We have a range of pesukim in which people are only identified by their description, followed by Moshe receiving a name, followed by another range of anonymous people who only go by description, followed again by people receiving names.

We can only speculate on the reason for this literary device. I would suggest that Pharoah's daughter encounters an unknown foundling from a strange, unknown culture. She does not know Yocheved, or Miriam, or Amram, or the boy who will be named Moshe. Thus, they are all anonymous, until she adopts Moshe and gives him a name. So too from Miriam's perspective - she is not on a first-name basis with the princess of her maidservants, and they are also unknowns to her, and so they do not get names.

When Moshe grows up, he goes out to see his brothers the Israelites, but he has no relationship to them. He sees some Egyptian he knows not hitting a Hebrew slave, and steps in. Perhaps the fact that he has no relationship with the Israelite (he does not even know his name!) shows the selflessness and power of this act. The same occurs the next day, when he tries to make peace between two fighting Hebrews. They stress that they have no relationship with him that he should be their judge.

When Moshe flees to Midian, he becomes the unknown Egyptian man. And to him, the priest of Midian, and the daughters of the priest of Midian, are just that. Yet he steps up and intervenes in a strange society in which he does not have a part, and saves them from shepherds, who are strangers to him as well.

Reuel, the priest of Midian reciprocates the kindness shown to his daughters, and now Moshe is once again Moshe as opposed to a strange Egyptian, and he marries one of the daughters, who is named Tzipporah, and they have a son who has a name, Gershom. Moshe names his son Gershom, showing how he was (in the past) a stranger in a strange land (Midian), perhaps implying that now he is no longer a strange.

A nice trend throughout is people from an alien culture step up and intervene to do acts of kindness for people who are, after all, strangers, and in many cases develop a relationship such that they are no longer strange foreigners but people with names. Perhaps this is too homiletic to be peshat, but I think it might in fact approach the reason (or one reason) that names are eschewed and then suddenly introduced.

Now, does the fact that Moshe's sister never is named here mean that she is not Miriam? Or that Amram and Yocheved are not named mean that they are in fact other people? Higher Biblical criticism might say yes, but I would doubt it. Rather, viewed from a literary perspective, the lack of names serves a purpose, and that is who Moshe's father, for example, is not called Amram.

{When discussing this on the phone with Eliyahu, he observed that the entire book is called Shemot, "names," yet here it leads off with a story in which people conspicuously do not have names given. Indeed, it is called Shemot because the first perek is a geneological list, giving people's names without giving any story; this leads into a story with (almost) no names. Perhaps this was done to present contrast.}

I would say that the same is true for the story of Avraham's servant. It is not only Eliezer who is not named. It is also the men who are with him. It is also initially Rivka, and at various points her mother, father, brother, and nurse.

א וְאַבְרָהָם זָקֵן, בָּא בַּיָּמִים; וַה בֵּרַךְ אֶת-אַבְרָהָם, בַּכֹּל. 1 And Abraham was old, well stricken in age; and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things.
ב וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָהָם, אֶל-עַבְדּוֹ זְקַן בֵּיתוֹ, הַמֹּשֵׁל, בְּכָל-אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ: שִׂים-נָא יָדְךָ, תַּחַת יְרֵכִי. 2 And Abraham said unto his servant, the elder of his house, that ruled over all that he had: 'Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh.
ג וְאַשְׁבִּיעֲךָ--בַּה אֱלֹקֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם, וֵאלֹקֵי הָאָרֶץ: אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תִקַּח אִשָּׁה, לִבְנִי, מִבְּנוֹת הַכְּנַעֲנִי, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי יוֹשֵׁב בְּקִרְבּוֹ. 3 And I will make thee swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife for my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell.
ד כִּי אֶל-אַרְצִי וְאֶל-מוֹלַדְתִּי, תֵּלֵךְ; וְלָקַחְתָּ אִשָּׁה, לִבְנִי לְיִצְחָק. 4 But thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son, even for Isaac.'
ה וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, הָעֶבֶד, אוּלַי לֹא-תֹאבֶה הָאִשָּׁה, לָלֶכֶת אַחֲרַי אֶל-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת; הֶהָשֵׁב אָשִׁיב אֶת-בִּנְךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר-יָצָאתָ מִשָּׁם. 5 And the servant said unto him: 'Peradventure the woman will not be willing to follow me unto this land; must I needs bring thy son back unto the land from whence thou camest?'
ו וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, אַבְרָהָם: הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ, פֶּן-תָּשִׁיב אֶת-בְּנִי שָׁמָּה. 6 And Abraham said unto him: 'Beware thou that thou bring not my son back thither.
ז ה אֱלֹקֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם, אֲשֶׁר לְקָחַנִי מִבֵּית אָבִי וּמֵאֶרֶץ מוֹלַדְתִּי, וַאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר-לִי וַאֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע-לִי לֵאמֹר, לְזַרְעֲךָ אֶתֵּן אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת--הוּא, יִשְׁלַח מַלְאָכוֹ לְפָנֶיךָ, וְלָקַחְתָּ אִשָּׁה לִבְנִי, מִשָּׁם. 7 The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father's house, and from the land of my nativity, and who spoke unto me, and who swore unto me, saying: Unto thy seed will I give this land; He will send His angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife for my son from thence.
ח וְאִם-לֹא תֹאבֶה הָאִשָּׁה, לָלֶכֶת אַחֲרֶיךָ--וְנִקִּיתָ, מִשְּׁבֻעָתִי זֹאת; רַק אֶת-בְּנִי, לֹא תָשֵׁב שָׁמָּה. 8 And if the woman be not willing to follow thee, then thou shalt be clear from this my oath; only thou shalt not bring my son back thither.'
ט וַיָּשֶׂם הָעֶבֶד אֶת-יָדוֹ, תַּחַת יֶרֶךְ אַבְרָהָם אֲדֹנָיו; וַיִּשָּׁבַע לוֹ, עַל-הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה. 9 And the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and swore to him concerning this matter.

Here the servant is not named, but on the other hand neither is the woman. This could be because Avraham does not yet know who the woman is. (Although he had been informed that a daughter had been born to Milcah...)

Perhaps the servant is not named because of selflessness. After all, this was the servant that the pasuk stressed was ruling all that was to Avraham, which the immediately preceding pasuk stressed was a lot. Assuming this is in fact Eliezer, we know that before Yitzchak, he was slated to inherit all that was to Avraham. And now he is being asked to find a wife for his usurper! And a wife usually means children, which means there is no chance of Eliezer inheriting. Yet he swears and does his best to fulfill Avraham's mission. He is thus self-abnegating, and the Torah omits his name to reflect that.

(In an interesting aside, Chazal note that in Eliezer's retelling of the story, when he says אולי, perhaps, the woman will not come, it is written with defective spelling - without the ו, and thus as is written reads "to me." They take this to mean that he is expressing the desire that Yitzchak marry his own daughter. Some note that this is reinforced by the choice of the word אולי as opposed to פן. פן would connote "lest," rather than a more hopeful "perhaps." We can grab part of this derasha and note the weight carried by אלי, "to me," by the person who really was initially going to have it.)

Another possibility for why Eliezer is not mentioned by name is because the role he plays in the story is that of the servant of Avraham, fulfilling Avraham's request with total dedication. Thus a descriptive identifier as the servant of Avraham fits him.

Perhaps, though, the reason is as before, by Moshe. We have a stranger showing up in Nachor , at a well no less (!) and asking for assistance from a girl. He gives her ornaments, and asks after her family. Then, he wants to take the girl back with him. These people do not know him, except in relation to their relative, Avraham. That is the only reason they would possibly send the girl with him through the desert. Thus, he is defined as the man or the servant, as a stranger.

The same is true for the girl. He does not know who she is. She is just the woman who will hopefully marry his master's son. He is a stranger in a strange land. He knows no one there, and turns to the angel Avraham said would accompany him and asks for help, and sets up a test. Rivka comes out and we (though not he) are told her name and the names of members of her family. Note that even though in pasuk 15 Rivka is identified to us, in terms of the narrative she is just a damsel.
יד וְהָיָה הַנַּעֲרָ, אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיהָ הַטִּי-נָא כַדֵּךְ וְאֶשְׁתֶּה, וְאָמְרָה שְׁתֵה, וְגַם-גְּמַלֶּיךָ אַשְׁקֶה--אֹתָהּ הֹכַחְתָּ, לְעַבְדְּךָ לְיִצְחָק, וּבָהּ אֵדַע, כִּי-עָשִׂיתָ חֶסֶד עִם-אֲדֹנִי. 14 So let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say: Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink; and she shall say: Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also; let the same be she that Thou hast appointed for Thy servant, even for Isaac; and thereby shall I know that Thou hast shown kindness unto my master.'

טו וַיְהִי-הוּא, טֶרֶם כִּלָּה לְדַבֵּר, וְהִנֵּה רִבְקָה יֹצֵאת אֲשֶׁר יֻלְּדָה לִבְתוּאֵל בֶּן-מִלְכָּה, אֵשֶׁת נָחוֹר אֲחִי אַבְרָהָם; וְכַדָּהּ, עַל-שִׁכְמָהּ. 15 And it came to pass, before he had done speaking, that, behold, Rebekah came out, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham's brother, with her pitcher upon her shoulder.
טז וְהַנַּעֲרָ, טֹבַת מַרְאֶה מְאֹד--בְּתוּלָה, וְאִישׁ לֹא יְדָעָהּ; וַתֵּרֶד הָעַיְנָה, וַתְּמַלֵּא כַדָּהּ וַתָּעַל. 16 And the damsel was very fair to look upon, a virgin, neither had any man known her; and she went down to the fountain, and filled her pitcher, and came up.
יז וַיָּרָץ הָעֶבֶד, לִקְרָאתָהּ; וַיֹּאמֶר, הַגְמִיאִינִי נָא מְעַט-מַיִם מִכַּדֵּךְ. 17 And the servant ran to meet her, and said: 'Give me to drink, I pray thee, a little water of thy pitcher.'
יח וַתֹּאמֶר, שְׁתֵה אֲדֹנִי; וַתְּמַהֵר, וַתֹּרֶד כַּדָּהּ עַל-יָדָהּ--וַתַּשְׁקֵהוּ. 18 And she said: 'Drink, my lord'; and she hastened, and let down her pitcher upon her hand, and gave him drink.
יט וַתְּכַל, לְהַשְׁקֹתוֹ; וַתֹּאמֶר, גַּם לִגְמַלֶּיךָ אֶשְׁאָב, עַד אִם-כִּלּוּ, לִשְׁתֹּת. 19 And when she had done giving him drink, she said: 'I will draw for thy camels also, until they have done drinking.'
כ וַתְּמַהֵר, וַתְּעַר כַּדָּהּ אֶל-הַשֹּׁקֶת, וַתָּרָץ עוֹד אֶל-הַבְּאֵר, לִשְׁאֹב; וַתִּשְׁאַב, לְכָל-גְּמַלָּיו. 20 And she hastened, and emptied her pitcher into the trough, and ran again unto the well to draw, and drew for all his camels.
כא וְהָאִישׁ מִשְׁתָּאֵה, לָהּ; מַחֲרִישׁ--לָדַעַת הַהִצְלִיחַ יְהוָה דַּרְכּוֹ, אִם-לֹא. 21 And the man looked stedfastly on her; holding his peace, to know whether the LORD had made his journey prosperous or not.
כב וַיְהִי, כַּאֲשֶׁר כִּלּוּ הַגְּמַלִּים לִשְׁתּוֹת, וַיִּקַּח הָאִישׁ נֶזֶם זָהָב, בֶּקַע מִשְׁקָלוֹ--וּשְׁנֵי צְמִידִים עַל-יָדֶיהָ, עֲשָׂרָה זָהָב מִשְׁקָלָם. 22 And it came to pass, as the camels had done drinking, that the man took a golden ring of half a shekel weight, and two bracelets for her hands of ten shekels weight of gold;
כג וַיֹּאמֶר בַּת-מִי אַתְּ, הַגִּידִי נָא לִי; הֲיֵשׁ בֵּית-אָבִיךְ מָקוֹם לָנוּ, לָלִין. 23 and said: 'Whose daughter art thou? tell me, I pray thee. Is there room in thy father's house for us to lodge in?'
כד וַתֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, בַּת-בְּתוּאֵל אָנֹכִי--בֶּן-מִלְכָּה, אֲשֶׁר יָלְדָה לְנָחוֹר. 24 And she said unto him: 'I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bore unto Nahor.'
כה וַתֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, גַּם-תֶּבֶן גַּם-מִסְפּוֹא רַב עִמָּנוּ--גַּם-מָקוֹם, לָלוּן. 25 She said moreover unto him: 'We have both straw and provender enough, and room to lodge in.'
כו וַיִּקֹּד הָאִישׁ, וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ לַה. 26 And the man bowed his head, and prostrated himself before the LORD.
כז וַיֹּאמֶר, בָּרוּךְ ה אֱלֹקֵי אֲדֹנִי אַבְרָהָם, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-עָזַב חַסְדּוֹ וַאֲמִתּוֹ, מֵעִם אֲדֹנִי; אָנֹכִי, בַּדֶּרֶךְ נָחַנִי ה, בֵּית, אֲחֵי אֲדֹנִי. 27 And he said: 'Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who hath not forsaken His mercy and His truth toward my master; as for me, the LORD hath led me in the way to the house of my master's brethren.'
כח וַתָּרָץ, הַנַּעֲרָ, וַתַּגֵּד, לְבֵית אִמָּהּ--כַּדְּבָרִים, הָאֵלֶּה. 28 And the damsel ran, and told her mother's house according to these words.
Thus she is still the damsel, because Eliezer specifically did not know who was family and who has not, and so she is anonymous.

We then are given Lavan's identity, and Eliezer tells over the story. Lavan and Betuel speak by name. But, when they are about to leave, there is another lapse into lack of names:

נג וַיּוֹצֵא הָעֶבֶד כְּלֵי-כֶסֶף וּכְלֵי זָהָב, וּבְגָדִים, וַיִּתֵּן, לְרִבְקָה; וּמִגְדָּנֹת--נָתַן לְאָחִיהָ, וּלְאִמָּהּ. 53 And the servant brought forth jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment, and gave them to Rebekah; he gave also to her brother and to her mother precious things.
נד וַיֹּאכְלוּ וַיִּשְׁתּוּ, הוּא וְהָאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר-עִמּוֹ--וַיָּלִינוּ; וַיָּקוּמוּ בַבֹּקֶר, וַיֹּאמֶר שַׁלְּחֻנִי לַאדֹנִי. 54 And they did eat and drink, he and the men that were with him, and tarried all night; and they rose up in the morning, and he said: 'Send me away unto my master.'
נה וַיֹּאמֶר אָחִיהָ וְאִמָּהּ, תֵּשֵׁב הַנַּעֲרָ אִתָּנוּ יָמִים אוֹ עָשׂוֹר; אַחַר, תֵּלֵךְ. 55 And her brother and her mother said: 'Let the damsel abide with us a few days, at the least ten; after that she shall go.'
נו וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם אַל-תְּאַחֲרוּ אֹתִי, וַה הִצְלִיחַ דַּרְכִּי; שַׁלְּחוּנִי, וְאֵלְכָה לַאדֹנִי. 56 And he said unto them: 'Delay me not, seeing the LORD hath prospered my way; send me away that I may go to my master.'
נז וַיֹּאמְרוּ, נִקְרָא לַנַּעֲרָ, וְנִשְׁאֲלָה, אֶת-פִּיהָ. 57 And they said: 'We will call the damsel, and inquire at her mouth.'
נח וַיִּקְרְאוּ לְרִבְקָה וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלֶיהָ, הֲתֵלְכִי עִם-הָאִישׁ הַזֶּה; וַתֹּאמֶר, אֵלֵךְ. 58 And they called Rebekah, and said unto her: 'Wilt thou go with this man?' And she said: 'I will go.'
נט וַיְשַׁלְּחוּ אֶת-רִבְקָה אֲחֹתָם, וְאֶת-מֵנִקְתָּהּ, וְאֶת-עֶבֶד אַבְרָהָם, וְאֶת-אֲנָשָׁיו. 59 And they sent away Rebekah their sister, and her nurse, and Abraham's servant, and his men.
Thus others in the story are at various points anonymous. I would posit that there is a narrative device at play here, just as it is by Shemot perek 2, in which people do not have names for a reason.

That does not mean that people are other those who are identified elsewhere. And so, while an open-canon approach is possible here, so is a closed-canon approach. Once we can give a reason for the omission of the servant's name, and show that it is part of a general trend in the story and is so for some literary reason, the argument that if it were Eliezer we would have been told of this loses some of its force.

No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin