Hayei Sarah tells two stories. The first is Abraham’s purchase of the Machpela Cave to bury Sarah. The second is the mission of his servant to find a wife for Isaac. There are comparisons we could make between them, such as the role that money plays in formalizing commitments, or the idea of promises and continuity at the heart of both stories.

But what I find most striking is a small detail the story of Abraham’s servant (traditionally referred to as Eliezer of Damascus):

And [food] was set before him to eat, but he said, “I will not eat until I have spoken my words.” And he said, “Speak.” (Gen. 24:33)

Eliezer proceeds to recount the story which was told by the narrator up until this point: his charge from Abraham, his prayer to God, the appearance of Rebecca. At the conclusion of his story, the Torah states:

And the servant took out silver articles and golden articles and garments, and he gave [them] to Rebecca, and he gave delicacies to her brother and to her mother. (24:53).

On this verse, Rashi comments:

“and… delicacies: Heb. וּמִגְדָּנוֹת. An expression of sweet fruits (מְגָדִים), for he had brought with him various kinds of fruits of the Land of Israel.”

After this, “they ate and drank, he and the men who were with him.” (v. 54)

Eliezer is held up as a model of virtue, someone who Abraham trusts completely with one of the things about which he cares most in the world. And in this tiny detail–waiting to eat until he fulfills his mission–he reminds us that virtuous behavior begins with the basics. How and when we eat is reflective of our character. It is not simply about being polite; it is about demonstrating the most elemental aspect of humanity, our ability to fulfill commitments even when our animal instincts would tell us to do something else.

One of the things we must reclaim as we awaken from the slumbers of modernity is a relationship with our food–not only in what we eat and how it comes to us, but in the very act of eating itself. In a culture of abundance, eating has become a casual thing. Yet Eliezer reminds us that the act of limitation in eating is basic to our humanity and our religiosity, and it is part of his overall makeup–a person conscious about their food is a person who takes life seriously, someone who can be trusted, someone who will deliver on their word. We need more of his ethic in the world.

Shabbat shalom.

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