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WHY AM I STUCK IN LIFE?

Thursday, 4 December, 2014 - 12:41 pm

A student in a very prestigious school was asked what his major was.

He replied: “Decision making.”
 
The questioner was intrigued. “Impressive! There is a whole department in your university on the science and psychology of decision-making? Wow. And what will you do with a degree in decision-making?”
 
He replied “I haven’t decided yet.”
 
The favorite Jewish pastime, matchmaking, is recorded extensively in this week’s portion of Chayei Sarah. Isaac is 40 years old and still single. Abraham, his father, sends his faithful servant Eliezer on a search. Unlike modern day matchmaking in which people are profiled based on vital issues like political alliances, music, and wine, Abraham gives Eliezer just one requirement: “Swear to me by the G-d in Heaven that you will go to my land, the place of my birth, and find a wife for my son, for Isaac.”
 
Eliezer travels to the city of Haran, Abraham’s hometown, current home to Abraham’s relatives. Arriving at the town's well, he turns to G-d and proposes a sign: The girl who comes to the well to draw water for herself, yet upon seeing him, will agree to share her water with him and all ten of his camels, will be the right match for Isaac.
 
As soon as Eliezer finishes talking to G-d, a young, beautiful girl by the name of Rebecca arrives at the well, and meets Eliezer’s criteria, drawing water for both Eliezer and his camels. She invites him home and introduces him to her father, Betuel. Eliezer tells him he is Abraham’s servant and he has come to choose a suitable bride for Isaac, and he believes Rebecca is it. The family is ambivalent, but Rebecca insists she wants the marriage. The deal is sealed. Rebecca travels to the Holy Land and marries Isaac. The rest is his-tory—or her-story.
 
When reading this portion, it is shocking to see the length at which Eliezer’s story is recorded in the Torah. 67 verses are allotted to the story—in a book that often covers major events in a few verses. The giving of the Torah at Sinai is recorded in far fewer verses! What is even more perplexing than the length of the story, though, is that half of it is pure repetition! Why?
 
Rashi says that while speaking to Rivka's parents, Eliezer hinted that he had a daughter of his own, and his greatest dream was that Isaac would be his own son-in-law.
 
This is very strange, however. Why would Eliezer bring this up now, in middle of a speech trying to convince Betuel to give him Rebecca as Isaac’s true intended wife?
 
The Chassidic works unravels the subplot of the story to us. Sigmund Freud began teaching about the subconscious, and the neurosis generated by our lack of awareness of it,  that is demonstrated in the story of Eliezer in this week’s portion.
 
Eliezer was experiencing in his psyche a truly deep conflict. On the one hand, Eliezer was unconditionally devoted to Abraham. As Abraham stood against the entire pagan civilization, Eliezer became his chief pupil and was committed to him heart and soul. He truly and sincerely wanted to fulfill the request of his master Abraham and succeed in finding Isaac a wife in Haran. He yearned to complete his mission for Abraham: ensuring continuity.
 
On the other hand, he was still a human being who had his own agendas. He understood the great opportunity of marrying Isaac and he wanted his daughter to mother the Jewish nation. Can you blame him?
 
The resolution to this contradiction is that Eliezer’s conflict was subconscious. In his conscious mind, he was unaware of the dichotomy in his heart.
 
Consciously, he felt that he was completely devoted to Abraham’s mission. He was unaware that in the subconscious cellars of his psyche lingered a very different desire—for Isaac to marry his own daughter.
 
And the fact that inside his system he did not want Abraham’s mission to succeed, actually hindered it. As much as he tried to move forward, he couldn’t seal the deal. Eliezer was sitting on a fence, torn between what he said he wanted, and what he really wanted. Eliezer was stuck—and as a result, the mission was stuck.
 
Is this not true for many of us? I tell myself that I want to really get married. I have been dating for so many years, so many people, and nothing ever works. I tell myself that I really want to lose weight; I went on five different diets, hired many a trainer, bought a treadmill, but to no avail. I want to have a better relationship with my spouse, with my children, with my siblings, with my parents, I tried many things, but none worked. I am still stuck. Very often, all of these good and noble and sincere ambitions cannot materialize because inside of us we have lurking a desire—or some form of inclination—that does not want or is afraid of pursuing this goal, and since we are unconscious of it, it undermines the fruition of our dreams.
 
How did Eliezer resolve the issue? And how can we?
 
To answer this, the Torah repeats the entire story of Eliezer’s journey and encounter with Rebecca. First we read how Abraham sent Eliezer on a mission and how Eliezer met Rebecca at the well. Then the Torah repeats the entire story once more—as Eliezer is recounting the entire narrative to Betuel. This is not a simple repetition; rather, it was while Eliezer was repeating the story that he suddenly became aware of his hidden agenda. When he became aware of it, the problem dissipated.
 
Often in life, the key of the problem is not the problem; rather, the lack of awareness of the problem.
 
This is the rule in life. As long as you are aware of your ulterior motives, or your fears, or your inner destructive voices, as long as you identify them “by their names,” you can control them. In medicine, when someone is diagnosed with an illness, there is hope for recovery, for making things better. However, if a person doesn't even know they are unwell, then the illness holds a much greater power and influence, for in its subconscious or hidden state, it is impossible to quarantine the problem.
 
Eliezer, too, did not realize and identify the conflict raging in his heart. In his conscious mind, he was doing everything in his capability to finish the job and succeed in his mission. He was in denial of his own inner agenda. He wanted the mission to fail but he could not do anything to control that desire because he was unaware of it!
 
Something new transpired during his retelling of the story to Betuel.
 
When he retold, reanalyzed, and relived the story, he realized that he had his own personal agenda. Once he was able to identify his deep desire, he was able to quarantine it and put it aside. 
 
That is why the Torah retells Eliezer’s story in excruciating detail, because in the repetition—a whole new story is emerging: the story of the subconscious. It is the story of a servant who is unconditionally loyal and selfish, a servant who possesses an existential duality, yet ultimately remains loyal to his master Abraham.
 
It is no coincidence that it was Eliezer who is the first in the Torah to analyze his subconscious motives. Abraham himself was a tzaddik—his conscious and subconscious were harmonized.  It is Eliezer, the servant of Abraham, the man who dedicated his life to Abraham yet still struggled internally, who symbolizes this great truth about the ordinary man: that our problem is not that we have problems, it is that we are unaware of them.
 
Amazingly, the Torah does not even mention Eliezer's name once during the entire narrative! This is because he is a completely dedicated servant, without the need to make a “name” for himself. The message is that a true servant—a true servant of G-d—is not someone who convinces himself that every whim and wish he has is what his master wants and so he truly retains no personal agendas. On the contrary, a servant of G-d is someone who can recognize his fears, inhibitions, negative inclinations, destructive voices, insecure feelings, personal agendas, and nevertheless faithfully carry out his mission, just like Eliezer.
 
Awareness is the genesis of all healing.
 
Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky
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