Chayei Sarah

“And he said, ‘God of my master Abraham, make something favourable happen to me today and do a kindness for my master Abraham’” Genesis 24:12


Following the burial of Sarah, Abraham tasks Eliezer his servant with finding a wife for Isaac and sends him back to his birthplace with camels and treasures. 
As Eliezer’s journey concludes and evening draws near, he brings the camels to a water source and begins to pray. Nothing unusual in that we might think, Torah is filled with prayers. 

But this prayer, as Eliezer waits, is a little different, for perched right above the Hebrew vayomar, “and he said”, is a rare cantillation mark, a shalshelet. This mark occurs just four times in Torah and has an extended and stuttering melody. What is it doing sat there above the introduction to Eliezer’s prayer?

Midrash tells us that Eliezer had offered Abraham his own daughter as a bride for Isaac but was refused. And so, we find ourselves standing with Eliezer at the well waiting to find a suitable bride. The daylight is fading, but nightfall and the new day have yet to make themselves known. 

Eliezer, Abraham, Isaac and the, as yet unnamed, young woman are all standing in the “in-between”, in a moment of becoming. Abraham awaits a new daughter-in-law, Isaac is to become a husband, Rebecca is emerging into womanhood and Eliezer has a decision to make. He prays. Will he stay here with Abraham’s camels and wait, or will he return, empty-handed?

Perhaps he is wondering what could have been had Abraham accepted his offer. Indeed, might Abraham change his mind if a suitable wife can’t be found? If he secures a wife for Isaac, is he acting against his own interests? What a difficult position to find oneself!

How often are we too in a place where we have to decide the best course of action, sometimes making decisions that appear to be against our short-term interests? Perhaps we, like Eliezer at the well, need at these times to offer a prayer of stuttering pause. A prayer of watchful waiting. A prayer where we ask ourselves what we are willing to give up in the now, to ensure a promise for tomorrow.

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