Yesterday we dealt in length with Abraham, Shimon, and Levi donning the garments of the Canaanites. All of our analysis would have been purely academic, were it not for the fact that the Torah tells us that Abraham was able to do all that he did with the Canaanites because of his servant Eliezer, who according to the Midrash was none other than Canaan,1 the son of Cham and the grandson of Noach, the father of all the Canaanite peoples, whom Noach had cursed that he and his descendents would forever be slaves to slaves.2 These Canaanite nations had now begun conquering the Land of Israel, which was known as the Land of Canaan for many hundreds of years before being conquered by Joshua.
Though it might be easily missed, this is one of the most important points that the Torah makes in its lengthy description of Abraham’s relationship with Eliezer. The Torah is telling us that Abraham’s ability to transform Eliezer, the father of all the Canaanites, indicates his was more general success in influencing, refining, and ultimately completely transforming the essence of the Canaanite culture and values.
Eliezer’s moment of complete transformation was reached when he went as Abraham’s trusted servant to find Isaac a suitable wife, Rivkah. During his dialogue with Rivkah’s family, he was addressed with the words: “Come, the blessed of God.” At that moment his transformation from a state of being cursed [by his grandfather] to a state of being blessed by God was complete and obvious to everyone around him. It was proof that Abraham had the ability to indeed rectify the Canaanites.3
Transformation through identification with a tzadik
When asked who he was, Eliezer did not give his proper name. Instead he said: “The servant of Abraham, I am.”4 His own self-image was one of being Abraham’s servant. If Eliezer were alive today, he would not have said “servant,” but he would say something like: “I am Abraham’s man.”5 Identifying himself as one who belongs to Abraham was the source of Eliezer’s ability to change and to cling to the path of holiness and morality. In fact, today too, real transformation requires one to truly cling to a tzadik, a righteous individual.
Numerically, the value of the Hebrew words for “The servant of Abraham, I am,” is: עבד אברהם אנכי = 405, which is also the value of the word for “I” (אנכי ) in this phrase written (in what is called in Kabbalah) “front and back,” like so: אנכי נכי כי י א אנ אנכ אנכי , indicating that the most essential “I” (symbolized by the word being written “front and back”) of Eliezer was being Abraham’s servant.
Eliezer’s ability to totally submit to Abraham’s will was the holy spark hidden in the essence of Canaan. Canaan in Hebrew stems from the word for submission (הכנעה ). Recognizing this may have been the impetus for Noach’s curse that Canaan should be a slave, but elevating this essence was what allowed Eliezer to choose a path of submission before Abraham and to escape his former self.
Eliezer the initiate
In our own parsha, Lech Lecha, the Torah reveals to us some of how Eliezer’s transformation took place. The parsha describes the war between the four kings and the five kings, which led to the capture of Lot and prompted Abraham to lead his own campaign against the four kings to save his nephew, forcing him onto the international scene as a major player.
Who were Abraham’s troops? The Torah says that Abraham “armed his initiates, those born in his house, three hundred and eighteen.”6 In the original Hebrew, this verse reads: וירק את חניכיו ילידי ביתו שמנה עשר ושלש מאות וירדף עד דן . This is a relatively difficult verse to understand. Rashi explains it as follows:
וַיָרֶק , [which we translated as “armed,” should be understood based on] its Aramaic translation: וְזָרֵיז , [“and he armed”]. Similarly are (Leviticus 26:33):וַהִרִיקֹתִי [which Onkelos renders]: “and I will arm Myself with My sword against you,” and (Exodus 15:9): אָרִיק “I will arm myself with my sword,” and similarly (Psalms 35:3): וְהָרֵק ”And arm Yourself with a spear and ax.”
חֲנִיכָיו [which we translated as “his initiates”] may be read חֲנִיכוֹ [in the singular form], which means “his initiate.” [Who was this initiate?] This is Eliezer, whom he had initiated in the commandments [of God]. This word [חֲנִיכָיו ] expresses the initiation of a person or an instrument into a craft in which he [or it] is destined to stay. Similarly, we find (Proverbs 22: 6): חֲנֹךְ “Initiate a child” and (Numbers 7:10): חֲנֻכַּת “the dedication of the altar” and (Psalms 30:1) חֲנֻכַּת“the dedication of the Temple.”
“Three hundred and eighteen”: the sages say7 that it was Eliezer alone, and 318 is the numerical value of his name.
From Rashi’s commentary we learn that Eliezer was the most important initiate into Abraham’s household, where through the education that he received in Torah and proper performance of God’s commandments, he was able to change his condition from cursed to blessed. Though the literal meaning of the Aramaic וְזָרֵיז is “and he armed,” this word is also related to the word for “quickness.” This alludes to the proactive nature of Abraham who “awoke early”8 and which was discussed in length in yesterday’s teachings. Abraham’s quickness was not only transferred as a trait to Eliezer, but he also taught him how to use weapons to do battle with evil, the reason for being quick in the first place.
Rashi mentions that the gematria of Eliezer אליעזר is 318, the number of initiates that Abraham took with him to battle. The Torah of course does not write numerals, but describes numbers in words. So, 318 is written “eighteen and three hundred,” שמנה עשר ושלש מאות . The numerical value of this number as it is so written in the Torah is 2048 or 211. 2048 was the year that Isaac was born. Somewhat tongue in cheek, but not completely, we learn from this that one of the components of Eliezer’s initiation into the ways of Torah was learning how to compute the gematria of his name and how to reveal secrets using this method.9
If we take 318 as written out in words and add to it Eliezer’s name (which equals 318), we get: אליעזר שמנה עשר ושלש מאות = 2366, which is also equal to 13 · יעקב or 7 · אלון מורה(which itself equals י־הוה · אחד ).
Eliezer the steward
After defeating the four kings, Abraham called out to God: “God, what will You give me? I am going childless, and the steward of my household is Eliezer of Damascus!… Behold, You have given me no seed. And behold, one of my household will inherit me?” God replied: “He [Eliezer] will not inherit you, but the one who will spring from your innards, he will inherit you.”10
From these verses it is clear that Abraham indeed appointed Eliezer, his Canaanite initiate, responsible for the fiscal affairs of his household. That is why he is called “the steward of the household.” By doing so, Abraham fully adopted the garments and vessels of the Canaanite nations surrounding him, which we explained yesterday have to do with business and merchandise. But, we see here, with greater detail, that in order to rectify Canaan, Abraham needed Canaan/Eliezer himself. Abraham’s method was to work through his servant. It was Eliezer, the servant that performed the actual work of coming and going in the world of the Canaanites. Abraham gave the orders, but the actions themselves, the work of clarification itself (avodat haberurim), was carried out by his servant.
But, this powerful relationship and cooperation between Abraham and Eliezer reflected only Abraham’s garments and vessels, as explained in length earlier. For his part, Abraham remained completely immersed in the lights, mind, and images of holiness, form whence his direction and mission came. In spite of all the success he had seen with using the garments and vessels of the Canaanites, Abraham thirsted11 for a son of his own. Only his own offspring could share his total immersion in holiness and continue his mission of refining the world through God’s name.
Where did Eliezer come from? How did he become Abraham’s servant? The Midrash tells us that after Abraham was miraculously saved from the furnace, Nimrod, the king who had ordered him cast into the fire, was so moved by Abraham’s steadfast belief in God, that he gave him Eliezer, who until then was his servant, as a present. This all came to pass when Abraham was still living in Ur Kasdim. When Abraham traveled on God’s command to the Land of Israel, he took his servant Eliezer with him. In hindsight, the greatness of God’s personal Providence over Abraham becomes clear, as we have been observing that Eliezer/Canaan was the key to Abraham’s ability to refine and rectify the Canaanite culture.
With Eliezer’s biography in mind, let us return to Rashi’s initial words on the parshah: “’And Abram passed through the land’: He entered it.” In order to enter the Land of Israel, Abraham first had to enter into his servant; he first had to enclothe himself with the soul of his servant Eliezer/Canaan. Rashi’s holy words, “He entered it,” are in Hebrew: נכנס לתוכה , the feminine form of “it” referring to the land. If we change this to the masculine form of “it,” referring then to Abraham first entering the soul of his servant Eliezer, this would be writtenנכנס לתוכו (as ”it” and ”him” are the same in Hebrew, now read: ”He entered him”). Beautifully, the gematria of נכנס לתוכו is exactly equal to that of אליעזר עבד אברהם , “Eliezer, the servant of Abraham!”
Eliezer and the Land of Israel
To end, let us look at a beautiful numerical connection between Eliezer and the Land of Israel itself, thus illustrating mathematically how Eliezer was the key to the rectification of Canaan. If we add his original name “Canaan” to his rectified identity as “Eliezer, the servant of Abraham,” we get: כנען אליעזר עבד אברהם = 832, which is the exact numerical value of ארץ ישראל , “the Land of Israel!”
The numerical value of the “Land of Israel,” 832, is also the product of God’s essential Name, Havayah and the Hebrew word for “heart,” indicating that the Land of Israel is indeed the heart of the Almighty: ארץ ישראל = י־הוה · לב . Since “heart” (לב ) in Hebrew equals “honor” or ” glory” (כבוד ), the Land of Israel is also the place where the honor and glory of God become revealed.
Furthermore, the average value of these four words, כנען אליעזר עבד אברהם is 208, thegematria of יצחק , Isaac, the only one of our three patriarchs who never set foot outside the Land of Israel. The four letters of Isaac’s name are the initial letters of four of the central names given to the Land of Israel.
י (yud) – ארץ ישראל , “the Land of Israel,” its most essential name.
צ (tzadik) – ארץ הצבי , meaning “the Land of the Deer,” so named because it is the land whose borders expand and contract, depending upon the virtue of the Jewish people, like a deer’s skin.
ח (chet) – ארץ החיים , “the Land of Life.”
ק (kuf) – ארץ הקדש , “the Land of Holiness.”
1. Bereisheet Rabbah. It is well known that the Midrash is not necessarily a fact-book. The Midrash documents the holy ruminations of the sages, revealing and teaching us about the subtext and context of what is explicitly stated in the Torah. In the Talmud, the sages teach us how to exercise our intellectual faculties. In the Midrash, they teach us how to refine and clarify our imagination, the source of all our ability to think spiritually, metaphorically, and in archetypes.
As such, in actuality, down below in the physical world, it may be that Eliezer was indeed the grandson of Noach (and this is definitely a possibility in terms of timeline), or it may be that he was his reincarnation, or perhaps that he was simply the contemporary example of the essence of a Canaanite. In any case he was the archetypal Canaanite. The essence of the words of the Midrash is to reveal to us why Eliezer was crucial for the transformation that Abraham was able to induce in the Canaanite culture into which he had entered.
2. Genesis 9:25. The Torah seems to be purposely enigmatic and unclear in its explanation of Canaan’s sin and Noach’s placement of responsibility on his shoulders. However, it is clear that Noach saw Canaan as carrying and expressing the negative side of his father’s energy (Cham means “hot” or “energetic”) and directing it into improper sexual and religious behavior. Whether it was explicitly obvious at the time, or not, Noach’s curse fell in the right place, for later, the Canaanites are described as practicing and spreading the most abominable religious and sexual practices on Earth.
3. It is difficult to refrain from drawing the similarity between this moment and the feeling that every person engaged today, like Abraham, in transformation work, has the first time that he sees someone whom he has worked with over time, having been completely transformed and wearing an air of being blessed by God.
4. Genesis 24:34.
5. In passing, let us mention that the Torah’s mandate for what is called “slavery,” is actually a regulation and structuring of the process of personal transformation. There are two types of Torah sanctioned slaves: 1) Jewish (called eved ivri) and 2) non-Jewish, who regardless of national origin is called a Canaanite slave (eved kna’ani). The rights and responsibilities of each type of slave are different. In principle though let us say that the Canaanite slave is actually an alternative path for a non-Jew to convert to Judaism. His very becoming a slave to a Jewish master entails his entering the Jewish fold. Once a Canaanite slave is freed by his Jewish master, he automatically becomes a full-fledged Jew. The deepest insights on the psychology of transformation can be gleaned from the Torah’s laws of servitude.
6. Genesis 14:14.
7. Nedarim 32aand Bereisheet Rabbah 43:2.
8. Genesis 19:27.
9. In our forthcoming expansion of the pamphlet entitled “The Torah Academy” into a book, we discuss in length the different aspects of mathematics, particularly mathematics studied with gematria methods, and how they relate to the sefirah of wisdom, whose inner experience is one of nullification—before God.
10. Genesis 15:2-4.
11 . The word “thirsted,” in Hebrew is written צמא , which is the acronym for “lights, mind, and images” (אורות מוחין צלמים ).