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Torah Attitude: Parashas Toldos: Kindness + mightiness = beautiful completion
The requests of Isaac and Jacob are even more difficult to understand than Abraham's request. Isaac requested that people should be afflicted with physical pain. Jacob requested that people should suffer from sickness. Already at the time after the sin of Adam and Eve, both of them were punished and afflicted with pain and suffering. Ishmael was sick at the time that he was sent away with his mother, Hagar. It appears that the requests of Isaac and Jacob were continuations of Abraham's original request for the signs of old age. The first three Sefirot, Chesed (kindness), Gevurah (mightiness), and Tiferet (beauty), are the principal Sefirot that serve as the foundation for the other Sefirot. Abraham served G'd through the medium of kindness. Isaac served G'd through the medium of mightiness. Jacob served G'd through the combination of the character traits of kindness and mightiness in one beautiful completeness. "The world stands on three things: on Torah study, on the service of G'd, and on kind deeds." "All Jews are responsible one for another."
Isaac and Jacob's requests
In last week's Torah Attitude we discussed Abraham's request of G'd for physical signs of aging. Isaac and Jacob also had requests. At first sight, Abraham's request seemed odd, but the requests of Isaac and Jacob are even more difficult to understand until one hears the reason behind them.
Isaac requested physical pain
The Yalkut Shimoni (Chayei Sarah paragraph 105) relates that Isaac requested that people should be afflicted with physical pain. Isaac said, "Master of the universe, if a person is going to leave this world without having had any physical pain, he will be afflicted at the time of his death by the Heavenly Judgment. But if You afflict him with pain while he is in this world, then the Heavenly Judgment will not be so harsh." G'd answered Isaac and said, "You are right. You are requesting a good thing and it will start with you." The Yalkut points out that from the beginning of Bereishis, the first one we are told that was afflicted with physical pain was Isaac. As it says (Bereishis 27:1): "And it was when Isaac became old, and his eyes became weak from seeing."
Jacob requested sickness
Jacob, says the Yalkut, requested that people should suffer from sickness. Jacob said, "Master of the universe, if a person is going to leave this world without having to be sick first, he will not have a chance to arrange his affairs and settle his estate between his children. But if a person is sick for two to three days, he has an opportunity to arrange everything." Again, G'd answered and said, "You are right. You are requesting a good thing and it will start with you." As it says (Bereishis 48:1): "And Joseph was told, "Behold, your father [Jacob] is sick.'"
Pain of Adam and Eve
This seems very strange. How can the Yalkut say that Isaac was the first one afflicted with physical pain and Jacob was the first one to suffer sickness? Already at the time after the sin of Adam and Eve, both of them were punished and afflicted with pain and suffering. G'd said to Eve (Bereishis 3:16): "I will make you suffer a lot [in rearing your children] and in your pregnancy. In pain, you shall give birth to your children." Adam as well was punished and told (Bereishis 3:19): "By the sweat of your brow you shall eat your bread."
We also find that Ishmael was sick at the time that he was sent away with his mother, Hagar. It says (Bereishis 21:14-16): "And Abraham got up early in the morning, and he took bread and a container of water and gave it to Hagar. He put it on her shoulder with the boy." Why did Abraham put Ishmael on Hagar's shoulder, since at the time Ishmael was already a teenager who was able to walk on his own two feet? Rashi points out, in the name of Midrash Rabbah (53:13), that Abraham had to put him on Hagar's shoulder because he was too sick to walk. This, says the Midrash, is why the water was consumed so quickly, for a sick person drinks a lot. He actually became so sick that he almost died. As it says, "And she [Hagar] put the boy beneath one of the trees and she went and sat down at a distance … as she said, 'I shall not see the death of the boy.'"
Continuation of Abraham's request
In order to understand why Isaac and Jacob were considered the first one's to have pain and be sick, we must analyze their requests a little closer. It appears that their requests were continuations of Abraham's original request for the signs of old age. Isaac said that it is not sufficient that people get old. It is important that they should also be afflicted with pain in order to avoid the harshness of the Heavenly Judgment. Jacob made a further addition. Jacob reasoned that even if people are aging and are inflicted with physical pain, if they are not going through a period of time when they feel that their end is near, they will not have an opportunity to arrange their affairs. He therefore requested a period of sickness prior to death.
Chesed, Gevurah, and Tiferet
The Kabbalists explain that the seven days of Creation correspond to the seven Sefirot. The first three Sefirot, Chesed (kindness), Gevurah (mightiness), and Tiferet (beauty), are the principal Sefirot that serve as the foundation for the other Sefirot. Each one of our Patriarchs represented one of the three Sefirot. Obviously, they all served G'd with all three of these character traits, but nevertheless each one had his special way of serving G'd through one of these character traits.
As we mentioned last week, Rabbi E.E. Dessler explains that Abraham's request stemmed from his love for G'd and mankind. This was part of Abraham's service of G'd through the medium of kindness. He cared for everyone and would invite even strangers into his house to look after their needs. When G'd informed Abraham about the pending destruction of Sodom and the neighbouring towns, Abraham went out of his way to pray for them, although they were the very antithesis to his whole way of being. In this way, Abraham spread the knowledge of the existence of G'd. Through his own acts of kindness, he brought thousands to recognize all the kindness that G'd bestows upon man. For when they saw the high level of Abraham's deeds, they came to realize that he strived to emulate G'd Himself.
Isaac, on the other hand, served G'd through the medium of mightiness. He was very aware of G'd being the Heavenly Judge and lived with a constant fear and awe of G'd's judgment. This is why Jacob refers to G'd as the G'd of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac (see Bereishis 31:42). Isaac did not interact with other people like his father, but worked to perfect himself in his service of G'd. When people saw Isaac they understood and recognized that one is responsible for one's deeds and one will eventually have to stand in judgment before the Heavenly Court. This, says Rabbi Dessler, is why Isaac requested physical pain, for in this way people will understand the severity of sin. The affliction will help people to repent and mend their ways, and in this way they will avoid the harshness of the Heavenly Judgment in the World to Come.
Jacob's beautiful completeness
The Torah (Bereishis 25:27) refers to Jacob as a "wholesome man". This is because Jacob served G'd through the combination of the character traits of kindness and mightiness in one beautiful completeness. Jacob showed that there is no contradiction between G'd's conduct of kindness and judgment. Just the opposite, everything fits together into one harmonious completeness. However, it is only possible to fully understand this through the study of Torah. This is why the Torah refers to Jacob as one "who dwells in tents". As Rashi quotes from the Midrash Rabbah (63:15), this refers to the tents of Shem and Eiver where Jacob studied Torah. Based on his special way of serving G'd by combining opposites, Jacob requested that a person should have time to arrange his affairs before he left this world. In this way, one can ensure that one's heirs will live in peace and serve G'd in harmony.
Torah study, service of G'd and kind deeds
Our three Patriarchs, with their special service of G'd, are the pillars upon which the foundation of the Jewish people is built. These are the very same pillars described in Pirkei Avos (1:2). The Mishnah says, "The world stands on three things: on Torah study, on the service of G'd, and on kind deeds." Abraham established the first of the three pillars through his performance of kind deeds. Isaac established the second pillar through awareness of G'd's mightiness and the need to serve Him with fear and awe. And Jacob combined these two aspects to form the third pillar of Torah that shows how everything fits together.
We, the Jewish people, as the descendants of our great Patriarchs, must strive to follow in their footsteps. First of all, we must perform acts of kindness the way G'd wants it. Secondly, we must live with a constant awareness of how we are responsible for our deeds, our speech and even for our thoughts, and how we will have to stand in judgment before the Heavenly Court. Primarily, we are responsible for ourselves. But we must also remember that we carry a mutual responsibility for each other. As the Talmud (Sotah 27b) teaches: "All Jews are responsible one for another." We can only achieve this if we study the Torah and fulfill the commandments. When we conduct ourselves in this way, we combine the three pillars of the world into one complete, beautiful service of G'd.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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