Patriarchs vs Their Children
Rashi’s commentary on Gen, 24:42. “Rabbi Acha said, ‘More pleasant is the speech of the servants of the Patriarchs before God, than the Torah (commands) of their children, as we find Eliezer’s account (describing his encounter with Rebecca) doubled in the Torah, while many of the central commands of the Torah are only given by way of hints.”
This is a truly perplexing statement, as we are all of the opinion that that which is most central in the Torah are God’s words. How then can a servant’s words, even a servant of Abraham, be more precious to God? Was not the Torah given for the sake of the commands?
How do we approach such a question?
The first step is to note what is being compared, as the quote of Rabbi Acha is one of comparison. We find that “speech” is compared to “Torah”, and “servant” is compared to “Patriarchs’ offspring”. In both comparisons, what generates our questions is that the latter appears obviously more important: Speech does not outweigh Torah, and servants do not outweigh Israelites, (in the capacity that Israelites must keep the Torah as the world’s teachers.)
Rabbi Acha is teaching a central lesson. He intends to draw our attention to God’s estimation of personal character. He first teaches, that which the Torah repeats is done so for emphasis of its importance. Based on this rule, Eliezer’s words must be more important than the Torah’s commands. But how so?
I believe the one difference between the Patriarchs and ourselves, is that they followed God out of an internal realization of God’s truth, with no externally imposed system. Even the speech of the Patriarchs is replete with wisdom, and their attachment to God included no coercion. The Midrash says, “At Sinai, God held that mountain over our heads commanding us in the Torah’s observance, and if we refused this obligation, He would drop the mountain on us, and there would be our graves.” This Midrash is of course metaphoric. But it teaches that the event of Sinai carried such clear proof of God’s existence that His commands were undeniably emanating from the Creator, one Who we would be foolish to ignore. Our acceptance of the yoke of Torah was in a manner, “coerced”, as if a mountain was suspended over our heads in threat.
Not so the Patriarchs. They arrived at a knowledge and service of God on their own. This is much more precious to God. The Megilla reads, “They arose and accepted that which they already accepted.” This is referring to the Jews’ re-acceptance of the Torah out of love, as opposed to their Sinaic acceptance out of fear. Again, we are pointed to the concept that adherence has levels. Greater than one who is commanded, is one who arrives at the truth using his mind. True, there is a statement of the Rabbis, “One commanded is greater than one who is not.” But this does not mean ‘greater’ in every way. This latter Rabbinical statement, once elucidated by a Rabbi, means that when one is commanded, he has more to conquer and is greater. He must fight the additional desire to rebel against “obligations”. One with no obligations, but who observes Torah, is great. But such a person has not conquered his rebellious instincts. But here we discuss only the sphere of “conquering his instinct”. A totally different question than our topic, “adherence to God”.
“More pleasant is the speech of the servants of the Patriarchs before God, than the Torah of their children.” This teaches that love supersedes fear. Our ultimate goal in life is not “fear” of God, but rather the “love” of God: the attachment to His knowledge through a true appreciation for the Source of all reality, an attachment to Him. This is love of God.