By: Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky
- The Preservation of Free Choice
We read at the beginning of the parsha, “And these are the offspring of Yitzchak son of Avraham – Avraham fathered Yitzchak”. We see from the beginning of the pasuk that Yitzchak was the son of Avraham. Why does the pasuk say later “Avraham fathered Yitzchak”? It seems obvious that if Yitzchak was the son of Avraham then Avraham fathered him.
Rashi cites the Midrash that explains that the deprecators of the generation were gossiping that Sarah, Avraham’s wife, had been barren for over 50 years and after one night with Avimelech she conceived. Evidently, Avimelech was Yitzchak’s father and not Avraham. In order to counter such claims, Hashem made Yitzchak’s face almost identical to Avraham. Because of this similarity between Avraham and Yitzchak, the world attested to the fact that Avraham was indeed Yitzchak’s father regardless of the situation with Avimelech.
We know that the pedigree of a Jew is sacred. We also know that Sarah was a tzaddekis and her power of prophecy was even greater than Avraham. How could Hashem allow her to be sequestered with a heathen such as Avimelech? How could Hashem have allowed there to be a question about Yitzchak’s pedigree? In order to mitigate the damage caused by the questions arising from Yitzchak’s pedigree, Hashem caused Yitzchak’ s face to be identical to that of Avraham in order to be a confirmation of his true pedigree. How can we understand this situation?
The purpose of existence is to enable man to make choices. Every moment is a choice between right and wrong due to a lack of complete clarity. If we make the right choices we succeed and if not we fail. Avraham was the role model of all existence. When Avram became Avraham he became the father of all the nations. He was a man that introduced monotheism into existence. Avraham was not only one of the most wealthy individuals in the world he was also the most spiritual. Avraham radiated with holiness and his very presence minimized one’s ability to choose. How could a person choose to do wrong after being exposed to Avraham’s level of spiritual clarity? For this reason, we know that throughout existence there is always a balance of good and evil. Who is the counterbalance to Avraham? Nimrod (who threw Avraham into the kiln of Kasdim) was the antithesis of Avraham. In fact, the Chazal tell us that the day that Nimrod was killed by Esav, Avraham passed away. We see that there cannot be a day where there is no counterbalance.
Avraham’s successor was Yitzchak. He was the son of the father of all nations. In addition, he resembled Avraham. In a way they are both equated. If this is the case then how is Yitzchak’s level of holiness counterbalanced in the world? How could there be free choice if there is no counterbalance? Therefore Hashem created a situation where people would question Yitzchak’s pedigree. Is he the son of Avimelech (the heathen, murderer, and adulterer) or is he the son of Avraham? A woman who is barren for over 50 years conceived after one night with Avimelech – it must be the case that he is the father and not Avraham. Hashem performed a miracle in order to confirm Yitzchak’s true pedigree. Because of the conflicting evidence, Yitzchak’s level is diminished due to the fact that people would question his pedigree. It is through this conflict of evidence that Hashem is able to preserve the power of choice in the world. Despite the resemblance to Avraham, people could still choose to see the situation incorrectly and question. Yitzchak’s ability to affect the world was no longer at Avraham’s level because of this ambiguity.
We see that the counterbalance of good and evil is repeated clearly with Yaakov and Esav. This is the conflict between the Jews and Amalek. Hashem says that his throne will not complete until Amalek is obliterated from the face of the earth. Amalek is the thorn in the side of all existence since it epitomizes evil which undermines all the good of existence. Chazal explain to us that Amalek’s attack on the B’nai Yisroel as they left Egypt was analogous to someone jumping into a scalding bath. Though the first person to jump into the bath will get burned, he will make the bath cooler for everyone else to dive in.
All the nations of the world stood in awe of Klal Yisroel because they knew that the Jews had defeated the Egyptians who were the mightiest nation. Nevertheless, Amalek attacked the Jews thus diminishing our appearance of invincibility. We see again the counter balance and the ambiguity in perceiving the world. It is through this ambiguity that free choice is maintained in the world. If we are able to choose the right path then our reward will be of the highest degree in the face of ambiguous options.
- The Center of Creation
We read at the beginning of the parsha, “And these are the offspring of Yitzchak son of Avraham – Avraham fathered Yitzchak”. We discussed above one understanding of this pasuk. Rashi cites another interpretation of “Avraham fathered Yitzchak”. He says that only after Hashem changed Avram’s name to Avraham could he father Yitzchak. Does the Torah need to use four additional words simply to communicate that it was Avraham and not Avram that fathered Yitzchak? What do we learn from this?
We need to understand the difference between Avram and Avraham. According to Chazal, Avram was a great astrologer and that he was able to interpret the stars that informed him “Avram will not father a son, but Avraham will”.
But there must be a deeper meaning besides a simple name change that prompted the Torah to use four additional words at the end of the first pasuk of Toldos. When Avraham was concerned that Eliezer may become his heir, Hashem told Avraham that he should look to the heavens and see that, as the stars cannot be counted, so too will be his progeny. The Yalkut notes that there is an extra letter “hey” at the end of hashamayimah when Hashem instructs Avraham to look to the heavens. The word for heaven should have been spelled hashamayim without the “hey” at the end.
Hashem tells Avraham that he created this world with the letter “hey”. We also find in the Gemara that there is a pasuk in Tehilim that Dovid Ha’Melech states that with the letters of “yud” and “hey”, Hashem created the worlds. With the power of the letter “yud”, Hashem created the spiritual world and with the “hey” He created the physical world.
Hashem explained to Avraham that just as the letter “hey” was needed to form all of existence, so too would he, in order to become the Father of the Jewish people, require a letter “hey” in his name. The letter “hey”, which created the entire world, caused Avram to become a new dimension of person in the world who was equivalent to all existence. This is also the meaning of the additional “hey” in the word hashamayimah. With this, we can also understand the Mishna that states that saving a single Jewish life is equivalent to saving the entire world. Because the same energy force (influence) was needed to create the world as was used by Hashem to bring about the Jewish people though Avraham.
Chazal explain that at the word found regarding creation – biheebar’am-( When He created them) contains the same letters as Avraham. The Maharal explains that when Avraham came into existence he was not a continuation of his previous existence but rather the beginning of a new existence. We see that the Jewish people descend from a person who was the beginning of a completely new dimension of creation.