The Short Vort
The Short Vort- Who is Eliezer? (10/25/13)
The (Long) Short Vort
Today is Friday the 21st of Marcheshvan 5774 and October 25, 2013
Who is Eliezer?
There is a cute question to ask your third grader or your wife or your Rabbi regarding this week’s sedra, Chayei Sora.
We are all familiar with the story of how Avrohom sent his slave to fetch a wife for his son Yitzchok.
This slave is the protagonist and main character of this week’s parsha.
And of course we know that the name of this slave is non-other than Eliezer.
However, the trick question is, how many times is Eliezer mentioned by name in the parsha?
Of course the answer is zero. He is referred to Eved Avrohom and nothing more.
Why his name is deleted and not mentioned explicitly is not the subject of this essay.
Many of you are familiar with this fact and you may even have your own answers to the question.
However, what would you say if I told you that Eliezer had another name and that name was Og!
Yes, I kid you not; Eliezer’s ‘other name’ was Og the wicked king of the Bashan who attempted to kill no one less than Moshe.
Now many of you are convinced that I have gone mad (for this and many other reasons) as how can I confuse the Tzaddik and devoted servant Eliezer with the blood thirsty evil giant named Og?
However that is exactly what Chazal (our sages) tell us!
In Pirkei D’Rebi Eliezer (Chapter 16) it states explicitly that after Eliezer successfully completed his matchmaking duties, he was freed by Avrohom and he eventually became the king of the land of Bashan and he was Og!
And so too we find that Chazal inform us that while he was still enslaved to Avrohom, one day his tooth fell out and because of his gigantic size, Avrohom was able to use the tooth as a bed for him to sleep in! (Massechta Sofrim 1:2). We see once again that Eliezer was a giant even before becoming king of Bashan!
However, this claim that Eliezer was Og seems to be contradicted by the fact that there are other sources in Chazal (the sages) which indicate that Eliezer was one of the chosen seven who entered Gan Eden while still alive. (See Massechta Kallah chapter 3). However, this is difficult to accept as we know that Moshe personally killed Og (see Brochus 54b).
Furthermore, it clearly states in the Talmud (Yoma 28b) that Eliezer was the prime student of Avrohom; the man who communicated Avrohom’s teachings to the world.
How then can this man who is referred to as a Tzaddik (Pisikta Rabasi 16) be Og who is referred to as a rasha (evil man) by Targum Yonoson ben Uziel (Bamidbar 21:34)?
How can this man be both a tzaddik and rasha; a hero and a villain; a man who enters Gan Eden while still alive yet is killed by Moshe for malice and cruelty towards the Jewish people?
And although there are those who attempt to put forth explanations which claim that they are not indeed the same person; rather, two different individuals with the same name; however, Rav Yonoson Eibeshitz in his classic Yaaros Devash (1: Drush 5) states explicitly that they are one and the same. Eliezer the loyal servant and devotee of Avrohom was also the evil king Og who terrorized the Jewish people and attempted to bring about their downfall.
How can this be?
How can all of these variant and mutually exclusive biographical anecdotes be of the same person?
Is he a tzaddik or he is a rasha; how can he be both?
Truth be told I cannot reconcile all the texts and greater minds than me have attempted to deal with this perplexing issue (see Daas Zekainim in this week’s parsha).
However, perhaps there is one point which I can contribute to the discussion and as usual the thought is mine and mine alone. It is not Daas Torah and it is not Daas of the Gedolim; it is Daas Atzmi (my opinion) and accept it as such.
I will not intend to make an attempt to reconcile the actual facts; after all, either Eliezer enters Gan Eden alive or he is killed by Moshe, I see no way to reconcile these two ostensibly mutually contradictory claims.
However, perhaps what I can contribute is the following.
Perhaps Chazal were sending us a message by specifically mentioning these conflicting and mixed messages about the true identity of Eliezer.
If we take the approach (which is the simple reading of the text of the Midrashim) that Eliezer and Og are indeed the same person, then I believe Chazal were sending us an important lesson about the reality of man and they specifically allowed these mixed messages to ‘co-exist’ although they are mutually exclusive in order to drive home the lesson they were imparting.
- Chazal in depicting Eliezer in such drastically different roles were sending us the message loud and clear that people, indeed all people- are complex.
Too often in life we fall prey to the normal human desire and need to make everything and everyone fit into simple and neat preconceived boxes of either piety or evil.
- Example Number One
Take for instance the child molester.
How often have we heard when a prominent person, perhaps even a rebbe or a rabbi is accused of the ‘unspeakable’ we suddenly hear a chorus of supporters coming forward to claim, “I know this man well. He is a Talmid Chochom and a Frum Yid, there is no way he engaged in the horrific acts you are accusing him of committing.”
The victim is the ‘evil one’ as often they have left the path of Torah (can you blame them?) and now they are conveniently placed in the box of ‘evil’.
However, as time goes on, the allegations become fact and the suspicions become reality. And the perpetrator was indeed a respected Eliezer in the morning while being an evil Og in the evening.
Why was there a knee-jerk reaction by so many to disregard the allegations?
Why did not they attempt to analyze the facts?
The reason is simple. People have a need to have their lives and the personalities who occupy a place in their lives fit into convenient and easily defined boxes.
The need to have our lives defined by these neat and clearly marked boxes in so great that it causes otherwise intelligent and thought-out people to declare, “Don’t bother me with the facts; this man is a Tzaddik. After all, his name is Eliezer and he the greatest student of Avrohom Avinu. It is impossible that he has a secret life in which he is Og the King of Bashan! It can’t be; I knew from him Avrohom’s tent; he is not an evil man, you are talking a loshon hora!”
However, low and behold, the accuser is correct!
The same person who is the morning was giving a Torah shiur based on the teachings of Avrohom Avinu, at night was committing the worst evils imaginable and attempting to destroy Jewish children as he was simultaneously Og!
- Example Number Two
I learned early on in my rabbinate that those congregants who appear put together and at peace are quite often in the privacy of their homes actually the most dysfunctional of people!
People are complex; indeed, so complex that you cannot even begin to unravel and explain the apparent contradictions of their lives.
Great people who for years occupied positions of prestige and respect, so much so they often were picked to publicly represent our most esteemed institutions were eventually exposed to be closeted ‘Ogs’. How does this occur?
People are complex and the sooner we accept this difficult to accept fact, the sooner many of our greatest challenges can be dealt with in the spirit of Chazal. However, as long as we ignore Chazal and continue to cling to non-Torah ideas that Eliezer is always Eliezer and Og is always Og, children will continue to be scarred and spiritually and emotionally crushed for life. And too often children will be continued to be abused by their very own parents as we see the parents as upstanding members of the community and it is nearly impossible to view them as Og.
Too often in the Jewish community we fail to take this lesson to heart.
We fail in this lesson when we knowingly ignore evidence presented by our children and our wives as they inform us that this ‘great man’ bullied or hurt them as Og tried to hurt the Jewish people.
We fail to realize that sometimes Eliezer can be Og and Og can be Eliezer. The same man can be Eliezer in the morning and Og in the afternoon.
We must take the lesson which the Torah through Chazal is teaching us and we must cease to continue in our non-Chazal simplistic approach to people wherein we refuse to believe that Eliezer can be Og.
We must tell our sons and our daughters and our wives that even Eliezer can sometimes be Og and we must tell ourselves that even rabbis can sometimes miss the telltale signs which indicate that Eliezer is also an Og.
- Example Number Three
However, there is another and distinct lesson we must take from Chazal here. Our sages who truly understood life are attempting to teach us important lessons and let us allow our hearts to be opened to hear their important lessons about the necessity to constantly realize that all people are complex and never one dimensional.
Must people are not as radically different as Eliezer and Og, however, all of us are complex and the sooner we realize and remember this the better off we shall be.
I still recall when I was younger when Rav Moshe Feinstein Zt”l was alive and sagacious and active. There was no major question which was important to American Jewry which his opinion was not solicited. I recall once explaining to a non-observant friend of mine that the greatness of Rav Moshe was characterized not so much in that he was always right; rather, it was that if you claimed you researched an issue and you did not solicit the opinion of Rav Moshe, it was understood that you just did not do proper research.
He was very respected and revered; however, was he never wrong? No one ever claimed that.
This proper balance between respect and reverence coupled with the recognition that even Gedolim are not infallible was recognized by all and it did not diminish their greatness one iota.
Over the last twenty years this balance has been lost.
Nowadays as the glossy color pamphlets are distributed promising you everything and anything as long as you give to this Gadol’s favorite charity the situation is basically one of where many gedolim are now untouchable and dare I say: infallible.
This overinflated claim of near perfection and infallibility of the Gedolim I believe is not only incorrect it a major cause for the alienation of many Jews; both those who were brought up frum and especially for those who were not.
An example of this is seen in the initial reports about the recent demise of Rav Ovadia Yosef Zt”l.
The reports bordered on the extreme in their assessment of his greatness. He was portrayed as unmatchable and as a person who inspired all and was beloved by all.
Indeed, the initial official reports claimed that over 800,000 people attended his funeral; this number has since been revised to less than half of the original estimation.
Was Rav Ovadia great and inspiring? For sure; however, was he infallible and above criticism? I highly doubt it.
A recently released poll in Israel found the following:
“When asked how Rav Yosef had influenced “the way you perceive Judaism,” 26 percent of Jewish Israelis answered “positively,” but 31 percent of secular Israelis — a group that makes up close to half of Israel’s Jewish population — said “negatively.” (Panels Politics poll quoted in http://latitude.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/17/divided-we-stand/)
The fact that Rav Ovadia Zt”l is portrayed as just about infallible and (very) near perfect is caused by this simple and non-Chazal estimation of people which necessitates one to assume the person under consideration is either totally perfect or just regular at best.
Recently there has been much discussion as to the fact many people (young and old) are ‘off the derech’.
Indeed, one recent article stated:
Rav Yitzchok Fingerer, Rav and Rosh Kollel of Brooklyn Jewish Xperience (BJX), Brooklyn’s Kiruv and Chizuk Center in Flatbush and author of the acclaimed Hashkafah book “Search Judaism”, says that there is an onslaught of frum people that are closet atheists who no longer believe in Hashem and are no longer Shomer Torah u’Mitzvos.
Many of these people are married and even have children and in many instances their wives and children have no idea of their spouse or father’s secret identity. BJX believes that the Torah must be the first address where people turn to with their questions and not secular sources or organizations such as Footsteps that are rabidly anti Yiddishkeit. BJX’s rabbis and faculty are exceedingly tolerant and open minded and their classes refreshingly openly deal with Emunah/Hashkfah and Machshava issues.
Rav Fingerer feels that if more attention was given to Emunah and Hashkafah in Yeshivos, the drop out and off the derech rate would drastically decrease.
- See more at: http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/article.php?p=194877#sthash.U0OliZxQ.dpuf
While I do not disagree that the reason people leave Yiddishkeit is complicated, and I do agree with Rabbi Fingerer that more emphasis should be placed on ‘hashkafa’; however, perhaps an equally contributing reason for the drop-out rate is the fact that people are complex and gedolim are even more complex and until we begin to teach this lesson we will continue to observe that when people find out that their favorite ( previously thought of ‘perfect’) rebbe is indeed not that perfect, he or she becomes disenchanted and leaves the Torah.
When children and adults are taught that Rabbonim in general and gedolim in particular are angelic and beyond reproach; when they find out that these previously thought of respected Rabbonim, therapists or Roshei Yeshiva have been arrested by the FBI is it any wonder they leave Yiddishkeit?
When the rebbe is simultaneously the perfect baby and the perfect bathwater are we surprised that when the rebbe is found to be complex and human and sometimes even Og-like that the babies together with the bathwater go down the drain?
When Rav Shteinman gets beat up in his house by an “avreich” are you surprised people leave the faith????
Was the alleged assailant motivated by the fact that his political faction for the last two months has been vilifying and demonizing Rav Shteinman so much so that the assailant felt he was doing a Mitzvah by attacking a 99 year old sage? Was this man brought up with the ‘hashkafa’ that you are either an Eliezer who is Avrohom’s favorite Talmid or you Og, the evil king who was killed by Moshe?
Perhaps if this young man who was reported to be married, with four children and the son of a Rosh Yeshiva (How crazy can we claim he is?) was educated with the teachings of Chazal that people and even great people are complex; he would have not been so quick to angelicize his rabbi and demonize Rav Shteinman?
The fact that we fail to recognize the complexity of the human condition wreaks havoc and is a destructive force in today’s Judaism.
- Pedophiles to continue to prey upon our children. This occurs for two reasons:
- People who are accused are automatically cleared of the accusation based on the non-Chazal teaching that Eliezer can never be an Og.
- Rabbinic leaders who mistakenly (not out of malice, but of ignorance) transferred suspected (or often confirmed) pedophiles to other communities facilitated the furtherance of abuse in our communities. The fact (and I know this because they have told me as such) that the students of these rabbinic gedolim continue to advocate this same misguided and outright wrong approach to pedophilia simply because they know their rebbe said it and their rebbe can never be wrong is hurting our children.
- The fact that we continue not to adhere to the teachings of Chazal and assume all of our rabbinic leaders are infallible which in itself is incorrect, is a major catalyst for people to abandon Torah Judaism. If we would teach as Chazal did that sometimes an Eliezer can be an Og, we would realize that even if this person is to be disregarded this does not mean that all of Torah should be abandoned. After all, people are complex and only Hashem is perfect.
My hope is that we should re-asses our ‘only white’ or ‘only black’ approach to Judaism and adopt the teachings of Chazal which advocates for the recognition that even when the person is no one less than Eliezer, he can also be Og and this recognition should lead us to a more nuanced and accurate assessment of our Rabbonim and hopefully a greater allegiance to Hashem as He and He alone is indeed perfect.
Sometimes was are Eliezer and sometimes we are Og, the challenge of life is to be more like Eliezer and less like Og; and by doing as such we may not achieve infallibility; however, we do achieve true greatness.
Ron Yitzchok Eisenman, Rabbi, Congregation Ahavas Israel, Passaic, NJ