We find in our parasha a lengthy and detailed elaboration on the story of Avraham’s servant’s selection of Rivka as Yitzchak’s wife. Chazal took note of this elaboration, and commented as follows:
“Rabbi Acha said: The conversation of the patriarchs’ servants is more beautiful than the Torah of their descendants. The section of Eliezer spans two or three pages [in the Torah scroll] and he repeats it, and yet the [law concerning] the sheretz [a category of insects] constitutes a major Torah concept, and [we know that] its blood generates tum’a like its flesh only from a subtle inference in the text.”
Let us try to determine the special quality of the conversation of the patriarchs’ servants over the Torah of their descendants, and explain why these conversations are greater.
Both the Rishonim and Acharonim have struggled considerably to answer a fundamental question regarding Jewish faith: should the knowledge of the basic principles of faith come from within the person, as a result of intensive, intellectual exploration, which is meant to bring the believer to a clear recognition of the truth and principles of Jewish faith, or, should faith come through divine revelation, such as prophecy and the like?
The difficulty in the first approach, which claims that the building of faith should come primarily from within the person, through intellectual probing and the like, lies in our recognition of the limitations of the human intellect, and hence his limited ability to arrive at complete and precise faith with regard to all details of the basic articles of faith, as the Sefer Hakuzari indeed explains.
On the other hand, however, it is also clear that faith resulting from a divine revelation to the believer is lacking insofar as it is external to the believer, a kind of coercive force applied to him compelling him to believe. Faith of this nature does not originate from his natural, internal spirit, which lifts him to faith.
It is clear, therefore, that the healthy and ideal faith is one that comes about through a combination of a “forced” faith resulting from divine revelation, while not neglecting the ambition for an internal identification with the principles of faith, the Torah and the mitzvot.
The avodat Hashem of the patriarchs, who lived before the giving of the Torah and a fixed system of laws that obligates the believer to observe them, was performed out of an internal, voluntary sense acknowledging the value of these laws. The etymological origin of the word “Torah” is the term “hora’a,” which means “instruction.” As such, the danger exists that mitzva performance will become an artificial action, without the individual identifying with it. By contrast, when Chazal speak of “sicha” – the “conversation” of the patriarchs’ servants – they refer to natural, free-flowing speech. “The conversation of the patriarchs’ servants” means the healthy naturalness of the lifestyle the patriarchs’ servants learned from the patriarchs. Of course, this natural quality would later develop into a binding, divine command, but there is much for us to learn from the healthy, natural quality of our forefathers’ avodat Hashem, a healthy, spiritual quality that had to precede the giving of the Torah, in the sense of “derech eretz kodma le’Torah” (basic manners must precede the Torah). Therefore, “The conversation of the patriarchs’ servants is more beautiful than the Torah of their descendants.”