When the miracle happens… will you notice?

It would certainly seem like a “sign” to me.

Abraham’s servant Eliezer—tasked with finding a wife for Isaac—designs a personality test which will show him the right woman for Isaac.  The right woman will not only offer to give him water but will also offer to water his camels.  Eliezer offers this as direction in his prayer to God.  Otah hochachta l’avdecha l’Yitzchak, “she is the one you have designated for Isaac (Genesis 24:14).”  It is, evidently, a good test. The moment he offers this prayer, even before he has finished saying it, Rebecca appears and offers to give him water and to water his camels!

What are the odds?  How unbelievable is it that this young woman does exactly what he has just requested!  And yet, Eliezer’s response to Rebecca’s generosity is a strange one. Instead of immediate relief, a jump for joy, or spontaneous prayer, Eliezer stops and stares.  V’ha’ish mishta’eh lah, macharish lada’at hahitzliach Adonai darko im lo. “And the man was astonished at her, staying silent, to know if God had made his path succeed or not (24:21).”

“Or not?” How could Eliezer wonder if this was the right woman? Rashi gives us an entire grammatical lesson on the word mishta’eh, “astonished,” offering us explanation of all the possible derivations of the word.  As Aviva Zornberg writes in Genesis: The Beginning of Desire, Rashi’s commentary here “enfolds a poetic range of meanings—not simply ‘surprised’ or ‘waiting,’ but ‘transfixed,’ ‘devastated,’ ‘confused,’ ‘dumb,’ ‘charged with thoughts’ (p. 142) .”

What was going on in Eliezer’s mind?  What was he waiting for? The Torah invites us to interpret this hesitation, offering us a glimpse but not a complete understanding of Eliezer’s thought process.  The Or Hachayim suggests that perhaps he was waiting to see if Rebecca would actually complete the task she had offered to do.  Nahum Sarna reminds us that a single camel requires at least twenty-five gallons of water, drinking for almost ten minutes, and Rebecca was watering at least ten camels!  Robert Alter calls this task “the closest anyone in Genesis comes to a feat of Homeric heroism.”

Or perhaps Eliezer was just astounded that his prayer had actually been answered, and he needed a moment to take it in.  Wait!  I think this is exactly what I had asked for… but do I really believe it? Only later does he thank God for providing the answer to his prayer.

It may take us a few moments to recognize the miracles in our lives. What happens when it all goes right?  We may feel a sense of panic, confusion, or even terror.

Human beings are naturally skeptical. Even when we get exactly what we want, we hesitate to call it a miracle.  We are slow to recognize God’s role in the process. We may need to sit back and stare for a moment, watch what is happening, and only then, acknowledge: “Wow, prayer received.  I never expected that to happen. Thank you.”