Saturday, November 18, 2006

Freeing Eliezer/Og

After Eliezer of Damascus, the servant of Abraham, completed his mission and found Issac a proper match, Abraham rewarded his slave by granting the slave his freedom. Abraham allowed this man Eliezer of Damascus to ascent to the throne of the Bashanite Kingdom, after which Eliezer of Damascus became known as Og, King of Bashan. Abraham knew how wicked Og/Eliezer was and did not want Og/Eliezer to be rewarded in the World to Come for his help in finding Issac a bride, so Abraham caused Og/Eliezer to have his reward for his good deed repaid in the This World, instead of the World to Come.[1]

The Braisa records[2] a story from when Og/Eliezer was a servant of Abraham: One time, Abraham screamed at this servant Og/Eliezer, which caused Og/Eliezer to be so scared that his tooth fell out. Now, Og was a giant, whose ankle was thirty handbreadths high off of the ground[3], it thus serves to reason that his tooth was a huge monolith. The pragmatic Abraham made use of this monolith by making it into a bed or a chair for his personal use[4]. The question arises that there is a Halacha that when one knocks out his servants tooth or eye, the servant automatically becomes free. According to this story, then, Eliezer would have been freed not willingly by Abraham, but after Abraham scared his tooth out.

The Talmud rules[5] that if one scares someone which in turn causes damage to that person (e.g. one goes behind another and screams "boo!" which causes the other to run in fear and smash his face into a wall), the damager is exempt from paying the damaged any monetary compensation. Rashi understands[6] that this is because the damaged caused the damage to him by reacting to the damager's action which scared him. According to this, when Abraham scared Eliezer and caused Eliezer's tooth to fall out, Eliezer actually brought the damage upon himself by reacting to Abraham screaming at him. Therefore, Abraham did not damage Eliezer, and Eliezer would not go free because of this episode, but was rather let free by Abraham after finding Issac a bride.

However, Rabbi Yom Tov ben Avraham Asevilli (1250-1330) learns[7] that the reason why when someone scares another he is exempt from paying for the damages is that the damager only indirectly caused the damage and cannot be held liable. According to this explanation, Abraham did cause Eliezer's tooth to fall out, albeit he did so indirectly, so Eliezer should have went free. Even though one is exempt for indirect damages, he is only exempt in the earthly courts, but the heavenly courts will still rule that such a person is liable[8]. When one is obligated to pay in the heavenly court, but not in the earthly courts, he whom is owed the money can rightfully grab the money from the one who owes the money and not have to return it legally. So, Eliezer can "grab" himself and claim that he is free because Abraham would have been liable for damaging him the heavenly courts, so why does the Midrash say that Eliezer was emancipated after finding a Shidduch for Issac, if he really went free after having his tooth fall out? The Rashash, Rabbi Shmuel Shtrashun of Vilna (1819-1885), answers[9] that one is only obligated to pay in heavenly courts because of a rabbinical penalty, but technically he is fully legally exempt. The Steipler Gaon, Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky (1899–1985), writes[10] that in order for one to have his slave go free, one must physically cause his tooth or eye to be knocked out, legally causing it to happen is not enough. Even if the action can be attributed to him, it is as if he did not do it because it was done indirectly, so Eliezer was only emancipated when Abraham willingly freed him, not when Abraham scared his tooth out.

[1] Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 16
[2] Tractate Sofrim 21:9
[3] Brachos 54b
[4] Tractate Sofrim 21:9
[5] Bava Kamma 91a
[6] To Kiddushin 24b
[7] Chiddushei HaRitva to Kiddushin 24b
[8] Bava Kamma 55b-56a
[9] Chiddushei HaRashash to Kiddushin 24b
[10] Kehillas Yaakov on Kiddushin §28


yaak said...

Very nice vort.
That Pirkei D'rebbi Eliezer always intrigued me. The Rada"l asks some interesting questions there. Ayin Sham.

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...


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