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In viewing the story in Breishit 24, regarding Eliezer searching for a wife for Yitzchak, we see that the Torah first calls him עבד - slave (starting from the point that Eliezer leaves Avraham's home) in:

  • verses 10 and 17

Beginning in verse 21, he is called איש - man, and we find this also in:

  • verses 22, 26, 30

I have excluded verse 34's use of עבד as Eliezer is talking, and he is describing himself and his "job title" (he was a civil servant :-)

Then, beginning in verses 52, 53, 65 and 66, he is, again, called עבד.

Verse 58, Rivka's parents call him איש, and I assume that's proper here in terms of asking Rivka the question of whether she will follow the "man" rather than asking "Will you follow this slave?" (I guess it would be less of an incentive for her to go with a slave?)

verse 59, similarly uses the term , עבד אברהם and I'm disregarding this example, as it seems to describe his relation to Avraham in a similar way that verse 34 does.

Verse 61 is a curious mix. First it calls him איש and then it calls him עבד .

Why does the Torah alternate between these two terms? I couldn't quite notice a pattern, here.

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I think that you will see that the reference to Ish occurs when he appears as the leader of a major caravan with 10 camels, showing wealth and needing to impress Rivkah's parents and brother with his position. Only when he gets to his mission is he called eved. This shows that his viewpoint is to do the best he can for his master and that his own concept of himself is that of eved. It is the viewpoint of the people who see him and see his dignity, and the way he bears himself who think of him as an ish.

R' Yaakov Kaminetzky (Emes L'Yaakov Bereishis 24:39) explained that during the course of Eliezer's mission, he started out as "eved" (verses 2 - 17), but upon finding Rivka and completing his mission, he became "blessed" (as Lavan declares in verse 31), and therefore was transformed into an "ish" (verses 21 - 32). After completing his mission and about to bring Rivkah back to eved. Rav Yaakov thinks it is because he hinted that he had wanted his own daughter for Yitzchak. However, most meforshim say that this was to make sure that they would let Rivkah go. These meforshim say that he is referred to as eved because he insisted on completing his mission without delay. Note that in pasukim 58 and 61 he is referred to as Ish (with full dignity) because that is how he appeared to others, while eved is how he appears to himself and in 65 and 66 as compared to Yitzchak.

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