By Rabbi Aron Tendler
Yitzchak Avinu is the most enigmatic of all the Avos. On the one hand,
he is presented as a fearless and successful entrepreneur who was comfortable
in the presence of kings and generals. On the other hand, having left behind
the wells that he labored to dig and develop he seemed to have run from
conflict and confrontation.
On the one hand, Yitzchak is the "Oleh Timimah - the perfect offering." As
the only human to have been offered as a Korban, Yitzchak transcended the
inherent limits of the physical and attained, as a human, the realm of the
spiritual. For Yitzchak, the material world was insignificant. His
existence matched those of the angels who shed tears at the time of his
Akeidah - binding. On the other hand, Yitzchak appeared to have a focused
interest in eating the tastiest food that Eisav could prepare before he would
bless him. Why? How important could a meal have been in creating the
appropriate mood for Yitzchak?
Each of the Forefathers represented a different stage in the history of the
Jewish people. Yaakov symbolized the past and present Jew who has had to
survive against persecution, and who has suffered the loneliness of exile.
Avraham symbolized the future Jew who will live during the messianic era.
World renown and beloved, teaching the truths of G-d's word and revealing His
actuality in the ongoing miracle of nature. Yitzchak symbolized the Jew who
will exist in the World-To-Come. Unfettered by the limits of his corporal
being, his will be able to soar to the eternal heights of divine
understanding and appreciation.
There have been others, Jews and non-Jews, who attained a spiritual existence
without experiencing death. For example: Chanoch in the year 987 - 2774
b.c.e., Eliezar the servant of Avraham, Serach the daughter of Asher, and the
great prophet Eliyahu. However, their experience was to exchange their
physical selves and enter the realm of heaven without having to go through
the transition of death. Yitzchak, on the other hand, attained a level of
purity and purpose that sanctified his physical self so that he became a
living, breathing angel. He did not enter the realm of heaven. He lived and
died as all other humans do, but in the span of time that was his life,
Yitzchak attained spiritual perfection.
In this regard, Yitzchak may have been even greater than Moshe. Moshe's
understanding of G-d's actuality surpassed that of all humans to have ever
lived. Moshe was the only human to scale the limits of physicality and enter
the realm of heaven as a human. However, upon descending from Sinai, Moshe
too descended into the struggles and frays of humanism. Yitzchak, on the
other hand, never entered the portals of heaven clothed in physicality.
Yitzchak remained purely human at all times anchored to the very earth from
which he had been formed. However, in the short span of 37 years, he
accomplished the total subjugation and sanctification of his physical self in
G-d's service. He became the perfect, physical human offering. He became as
If Yitzchak attained a level of purity akin to if not greater than that of
Moshe, why was it that Moshe's face radiated light while Yitzchak's face did
not? (The question assumes that the "light" was the physical manifestation
of Moshe's inner sanctity).
I would like to suggest that Yitzchak, and possibly all the Avos, were at a
level that merited having their countenances radiate their inner sanctity.
However, the external manifestation of kedusha requires more than the merit
of the "holy person," it also depends on whether or not others merit being
able to see holiness. In the times of Moshe, the Generation of the Desert
was deserving of witnessing the outward signs of G-dliness. In the times of
the forefathers, the generations were not at a level that they merited seeing
the overt affects of sanctity.
At the beginning of the third section of the Kuzari, R' Yehudah Halevi
presented a perspective on what it means to be a "servant of G-d?" The
Chaver answered, "Certainly not a hermit who shuns society. A true servant
of G-d would never consider life, G-d's greatest gift, a burden. It is to be
savored, each additional moment thought of as a precious boon, because it is
a sure path to Olam HabBa. Each fleeting moment can yield eternity."
(Translation by Rabbi Moshe Eiseman - Shelter Among The Shadows).
It is obvious and proper to believe that G-d created the human to live in His
world and enjoy His majestic creation. To assume that we were created to
live a life of asceticism is to assume that G-d perpetrated on humanity a
cruel joke or an impossibly unfair challenge.
The Chaver continued: "For most people a life of asceticism would be self
defeating. They would crave all those legitimate experiences for which
nature endowed them. Sounds and sights, the company of friends, the daily
challenge of living and making a living would all clamor for attention. We
want to eat, to drink and to live normal married lives. We want to make
money, to have decent homes, to lend a hand to the needy and to support Torah
scholars with our bounty. A life of exaggerated austerity will simply
backfire. It will drive a wedge between the would-be hermit and G-d, rather
than bring them closer together. Instead of making him feel holy, it will
make him bitter because of all he has missed." (Ibid.).
From the moment that Yakov and Eisav were born, Yitzchak dreamt of his two
sons working together to build the Jewish people. Yitzchak, the
quintessential pure human, understood the intrinsic value of the material
world. Yitzchak recognized the inherent holiness in everything that G-d had
created, because G-d had created them! As it states in Psalm 148, "Let them
praise the name of Hashem, for he commanded and they were created." Yitzchak
understood that life was an opportunity to live within G-d's universe and
willfully serve Him by revealing his greatness and majesty within everything
He had created.
Yitzchak knew that it was never intended for man to live by bread alone. The
human was to revel in the beauty and bounty of G-d'' extraordinary generosity
and love. Yitzchak knew that devotion and G-dliness had to be supported by
materialistic sustenance and pleasure. One without the other would surely
fail. Therefore, Yitzchak dreamed of a partnership between the spiritualist
Yaakov and the materialist Eisav. Eisav would support Yaakov and Yaakov would
give real purpose and direction to Eisav.
Yitzchak intended to convey upon his sons the blessings most appropriate to
their individual callings. Eisav was to have received the blessing of
materialism in the support of G-dliness and Yaakov was to have received the
blessings of recognizing and then teaching the spirituality inherent within
Of the two sons, Yitzchak was much more confident in Yaakov's ability to
fulfill his intended destiny than in Eisav's willingness to serve G-d.
Therefore, from the time they were very young, "Yitzchak loved Eisav." That
did not mean that he did not love Yaakov. How could he not have loved
Yaakov was his life-long student. Yaakov was the essence of all that was good
and true in humanity. Yaakov's face adorned the celestial throne of G-d!
Yitzchak's love for Eisav was in the focus Yitzchak brought to bear upon
Eisav. Yitzchak wished to model for Eisav the true value of living a
materialistic life in the service of G-d.
Yitzchak was the successful entrepreneur who could hob knob and negotiate
with the Avimelech's and Phicols of the world. At the same time, his
interests were far more profound than mere material gain or physical
security. Yitzchak dug wells for reasons beyond the obvious. Yitzchak's
diggings opened the core of spirituality and the wells of Torah inherent in
Eretz Yisroel. Yitzchak was preparing the land for his future children and
grandchildren. The water rights that were so previous to the Plishtim were
irrelevant to Yitzchak. So long as he accomplished their true purpose he was
more than willing to move on and dig again.
At the time of the blessings, Yitzchak wanted to model for Eisav and prepare
Eisav for his intended task. Therefore, Yitzchak asked Eisav to use his
physical prowess as a hunter and prepare for him his favorite dish. Yitzchak
was testing Eisav. "If you will use your strength and ability to serve me in
preparation of receiving G-d's blessings then you will prove to me that you
understand the value of your designated obligations. Then you will be worthy
of your destiny."
In the end, due to the theatrics of Rivka and Yaakov, it became clear to
Yitzchak that Eisav was unworthy of his blessing. Therefore, he immediately
reconfirmed the blessing of materialism in the support of spirituality upon
Yitzchak, who was the true Oleh Timimah - perfect offering, loved a
materialistic existence because it manifested the essence of G-d's holiness.
It therefore makes perfect sense that he should be the Av - Father who
represents Olam HaBa, that stage of existence that is the purpose and focus
of our materialistic world.
Copyright © 2000 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.