By Rabbi Yitzchok D. Frankel
Agudath Israel of the Five Towns
Throughout his life, Avraham Avinu experienced situations and circumstances that were unique to him and not shared by the other Avos. The same is true of Yaakov Avinu. The latter part of Sefer Bereishis speaks of the various hardships, travels, and difficulties of Yaakov. It is interesting to note that we do not find Yitzchak spoken about as an Av, as an independent individual standing by himself. The Torah is replete with stories of Yitzchak either connected to his father Avraham or to his children Yaakov and Eisav. None appear to be identified solely as his own.
Everything that happens to Yitzchak, it appears, already has happened to Avraham. Even when Yitzchak seems to be acting independently, it is just a repeat of what Avraham has already done. It is a reflection of the avodah of Avraham. Avraham goes to Gerar; Yitzchak goes to Gerar. Avraham finds his wife in danger and says, “She is my sister”; Yitzchak finds his wife in danger and says, “She is my sister.” Avraham digs wells; Yitzchak re-digs the very same wells and names them with the very same names.
Where do we find something that is unique to Yitzchak? Is there any event that can be said to represent or embody the special avodah of Yitzchak Avinu? As we examine the Torah, we find a solitary instance that sets Yitzchak apart from Avraham and Yaakov, expressed so briefly that we hardly notice it.
“And Avimelech commanded all the people, saying: ‘Whoever harms this man and his wife shall surely die.’ And Yitzchak sowed in that land and he found in that year a hundred times [more produce than estimated], and Hashem blessed him” (Bereishis 26:11–12).
Yitzchak is in Gerar and there is a famine in the entire area. He does not go down to Egypt for food, but deals with the problem where he is, in Eretz Yisrael. “And Yitzchak sowed in that land.” Yitzchak plows; Yitzchak plants in that arid dry land without rain. “And he found in that year a hundred times . . . and Hashem blessed him.”
This short segment in the life of Yitzchak, ostensibly lacking deep significance, actually defines the nature of his very being. This account of the “hundred times” is the only avodah, the only incident, that is uniquely Yitzchak. It does not involve Avraham and the Akeidah. It has nothing to do with the births of Yaakov and Eisav or the incident of the berachos. It is exclusively Yitzchak. What is the significance of this incident?
There is a fascinating commentary of the Netziv that sheds light on this, found in the Harcheiv Davar (further elucidations of the Ha’amek Davar) on Parashas Vayishlach 34:1, article 2. The Netziv cites a midrash saying that Avraham was called Yisrael, and Yitzchak was called Yisrael. Thus, he raises the question: If so, why is Yisrael considered especially to be the name of Yaakov?
The Netziv answers by explaining the significance of the title “Yisrael.” It signifies acting on a level that is above the laws of nature, which can express itself in various areas. As the Netziv explains, every person needs to attain three things in his life: defense from his enemies, parnassah, and peace. Without peace, nothing good will last.
There is support for this last statement of the Netziv from Rashi in Parashas Bechukosai: “Perhaps you will say, ‘We have food, we have drink, but if there is no peace, then there is nothing.’ Therefore the Torah says after all these [blessings], ‘And I will place peace.’ From here [we learn] that peace is equal to all” (Rashi, Vayikra 26:6).
Let us return to the commentary of the Netziv. When it comes to defense from one’s enemies, Avraham Avinu achieved a level that was above the laws of nature. We see this when he was thrown into the fiery furnace by Nimrod. Again he is protected when he goes down to Egypt, and again he emerges unscathed from the war he waged against the four powerful kings of Mesopotamia. Thus, he earned the title of “Yisrael” in this respect.
Yitzchak also earned the title of Yisrael in a certain area, says the Netziv. However, only when Yaakov earned it in the area of peace (by miraculously maintaining good relations with Lavan and Eisav) was the aspect of “Yisrael” completed. That is why Yisrael is a name that belongs especially to Yaakov.
In what area did Yitzchak earn the title of “Yisrael,” indicating action on a level above the laws of nature? The Netziv says it was in the area of parnassah. Yitzchak perfected the avodah of parnassah. “And he found in that year a hundred times . . .”
Now we understand how the incident of the “hundred times” expresses the unique achievement of Yitzchak Avinu. It is his effectuation of a life above the laws of nature and the acquisition of the name “Yisrael.”
However, it is bewildering that Yitzchak fulfilled specifically this role. He is the personality we would least expect to excel in the field of parnassah. The image we have of Yitzchak Avinu is that of avodah and Middas HaDin. We see him as supremely strict and pious, having as much to do with this world as does the pile of ashes from the Akeidah that he represents. He is occupied with prayer and sacrifices—how can he be earning a living?
This is because we picture someone dedicated to Divine service as a person whose head is in the stars, someone totally disconnected from normal life. et, the Torah tells us that just the opposite is true. Yitzchak represents parnassah!
This seeming contradiction in the character of Yitzchak Avinu is paralleled by a teaching of Chazal in Shabbos 89b that records a discussion that will take place in the future between Hashem and the Avos. Hashem approaches the Avos and says, “Your children sinned against Me,” awaiting a convincing reply. Avraham and Yaakov both disappoint Hashem by saying that the people who sinned should be wiped out in sanctification of Hashem’s Name. However, Yitzchak pleases his Maker by standing up to protect K’lal Yisrael.
Although Yitzchak Avinu represents the stringency of judgment, only he comes to protect those who sinned. He meticulously calculates the maximum amount that a person could sin during the course of his life, ascertains his figures, and makes an offer to Hashem: “You take half; I’ll take half.” In this way, Yitzchak saves K’lal Yisrael.
Yitzchak, while retaining the quality of din that was his essence, ultimately saves all of Creation. What does din mean? We find the answer at the beginning of Creation: “In the beginning, Elokim created the heavens and the earth.” The Divine Name of Elokim, which represents din, brought this world into existence and, ultimately, will bring it to its true fulfillment. The purpose of Creation was to infuse material reality with spirituality, with kedushah, and recognize that in truth, everything is for spirituality. Material reality exists only here in this world, which is a mere corridor leading to the World to Come.
We are constantly enjoined to take from the mundane and add it onto the holy. For instance, there is a mitzvah to accept Shabbos upon ourselves some time before sunset and not to conclude Shabbos until some time after dark, because Shabbos is mei’ein Olam HaBa. It represents the World to Come. Thus, we add onto its sanctity. We take from the mundane moments of the weekdays and add them to Shabbos, thereby sanctifying them. The underlying concept is that everything that exists is only for the sake of serving Hashem.
The greatest manifestation of this concept was Yitzchak himself. He represented the fact that a person’s parnassah, his materially oriented activities, are all part of the service of Hashem. It’s all together. There are no two aspects. There is no such thing as secular and holy. We cannot divorce the mundane aspects of life from spirituality. Therefore, Yitzchak Avinu represents and typifies the proper approach to parnassah. He stands for the fact that K’lal Yisrael is here only to serve Hashem.
It is from Yitzchak Avinu, and him alone, that K’lal Yisrael has as an inheritance the Divinely inspired ability to make sure that every aspect of life is elevated and sanctified. What does din signify? The existence of din in this world was part of the original thought that G‑d had regarding the creation of the world: “In the beginning, Elokim created.” Let us not forget that the purpose of the world’s creation was only for K’lal Yisrael. Thus, the end result is that the Jewish people is preserved, K’lal Yisrael is saved, K’lal Yisrael is redeemed—all through the same trait, the trait of Yitzchak, which produced the “hundred times.” v
Rabbi Frankel can be reached at email@example.com. At local stores: Machat Shel Yad Bereishis.