Avraham bound his servant Eliezer by a sacred oath, not to take a wife for Yitzchak from the daughters of Canaan. What fault did Avraham find in the daughters of Canaan, and why did he suppose that the daughters of Aram Naharayim were in any way superior? The Rambam tells us that Avraham had tens of thousands of followers in Canaan: “These were the members of Avraham’s household, in whose hearts he planted the roots of faith.” Could he not have chosen a bride for his son from among them?
The Kli Yakar writes:
כי מסתמא צוה שלא יתחתן בבנות הכנעני פן ילמד ממעשיהם...אם כן מה ירויח אם ישא אשה מבנות לבן ובתואל כי גם המה עובדי עבודת גילולים כמו הכנעני ... אמנם יש חששא אחרת והוא שטבע האבות נמשך גם לבנים וזה דווקא באותן עבירות הבאים מפאת החומר כאכילה וזימה וכילות וקנאה וכל המדות הרעות הנתלין בחומר, נגעים אלו מתפשטים מהאבות לבנים, ותולדותיהן כיוצא בהם, אבל העבודת גילולים דבר התלוי בשכלו של אדם אינו מתפשט מאבות לבנים, כי ג' שותפין באדם, החומר בא מן אב ואם לפיכך כל מעשה אבות התלוין בחומר ירשו בנים, אבל האמונה היא תלויה בשכלו של אדם והרי הקב"ה נותן בו נשמה ושכל למה יתפשט זה מאבות לבנים, על כן היה מרחיק הכנענים שהיו שטופי ומה וכמה מיני עבירות הנתלים בחומר האדם זולת עבודת גילולים, ולא הרחיק לבן ובתואל שלא היה בהם כי אם פחיתת העבודת גילולים לבד.
Avraham forbade his son to marry the daughters of Canaan lest he learn from their wicked ways. But Besuel was no less of an idolater than the Canaanites. What then did Avraham gain by taking Besuel’s daughter as his son’s bride?
In fact, Avraham had a different concern. Children tend to exhibit traits similar to those of their parents, in areas that stem from their physical composition. For example: greed, lust, and similar character flaws that are inherent to the human body. Since the parents helped form their children’s bodies, their physical traits are generally passed on to their children… However, false ideologies depend on a person’s conscious decision. Hashem grants each person a soul and powers of reason with which to choose his own beliefs. Therefore, there is no reason to fear that false beliefs will be passed on from one generation to the next. Avraham rejected the Canaanites, who were steeped in lustful desire, in favor of Besuel’s family, since Besuel’s sole fault was idolatry, which he would not necessarily transfer to his daughter.
In preparing the foundation for the Jewish nation, Avraham did not fear the influence of Besuel’s idolatry. Hashem’s Oneness was so evident in Avraham’s home, that any bride brought for Yitzchak would instantly abandon any idolatrous leanings she might have entertained in the past. However, the correction of faulty character traits is a far more difficult task. Rav Yisrael Salanter zt”l would say that it is easier to uproot a mountain, than to uproot a character flaw. Therefore, Avraham sent Eliezer back to his homeland in search of a bride, rather than take a bride from the daughters of Canaan, who were corrupt in their character.
We learn in Pirkei Avos:
כל מי שיש בידו שלשה דברים הללו, מתלמידיו של אברהם אבינו. ושלשה דברים אחרים, מתלמידיו של בלעם הרשע. עין טובה, ורוח נמוכה, ונפש שפלה, מתלמידיו של אברהם אבינו. עין רעה, ורוח גבוהה, ונפש רחבה, מתלמידיו של בלעם הרשע. מה בין תלמידיו של אברהם אבינו לתלמידיו של בלעם הרשע. תלמידיו של אברהם אבינו, אוכלין בעולם הזה ונוחלין בעולם הבא, שנאמר "להנחיל אהבי יש, ואצרתיהם אמלא." אבל תלמידיו של בלעם הרשע יורשין גיהנם ויורדין לבאר שחת, שנאמר "ואתה אלהים תורידם לבאר שחת, אנשי דמים ומרמה לא יחצו ימיהם, ואני אבטח בך."
Anyone who exhibits the following three traits is a student of Avraham Avinu. Anyone who exhibits the opposite three traits is a student of the wicked Bilaam. A generous eyes, a contrite spirit, and a humble soul – these are [the traits of] Avraham’s students. An evil eye, a haughty spirit, and a lustful soul – these are [the traits of] Bilaam’s students.
What is the difference between the students of Avraham Avinu, and those of the wicked Bilaam? Avraham’s students enjoy their reward in this world, and inherit the World to Come, as it is written, “To bequeath substance to My beloved, and I shall fill their storehouses.” Bilaam’s students inherit the punishment of Gehinom, and descend into the pit of destruction, as it is written, “And You, O G‑d, shall lower them into the pit of destruction. Men of bloodshed and deception shall not live out half their days, but I trust in You.”
Rabbeinu Yona explains that Avraham’s students had many other precious qualities besides the three listed here. However, these three traits were the foundations of Avraham’s philosophy, and the central message he imparted to his followers.
We see then that Avraham’s message to the world was first and foremost one of character improvement. He instilled humility and generosity in his students to such an extent that thousands of years later the Sages pointed to these traits as exemplifying his household.
Avraham was an accomplished scholar. He led an academy where hundreds of orders of Mishna were taught, in contrast to the Six Orders of Mishna we currently possess. His Maseches Avodah Zarah contained four hundred chapters, in contrast to the five chapters in our own. He foresaw and observed all the Biblical and Rabbinic laws that would ever be decreed. He even perceived the novel Torah insights that are developed each day in Heaven.
It is therefore all the more interesting to note that the students of such a prestigious teacher, who drank deeply from the waters of his teachings, were not praised for their erudition, which was surely exemplary, but for their character traits. In Avraham’s school of thought, good character was the very foundation of religious observance.
The three traits Avraham espoused more than all others: generosity, contrition, and humility, are the central pillars of the entire Torah. They counter the three destructive traits of jealousy, selfish passion, and arrogance, which drive a person from this world.
Upon these pillars, Avraham built the dynasty that he bequeathed to Yitzchak. Therefore, it was crucial that the woman who joined Yitzchak in this sacred task would exemplify these traits. Although Avraham realized that Besuel’s home was tainted by idolatry, he trusted that this influence could be easily overcome, by means of the fine character and kind heart that he sought in his son’s destined match.