How Far Yitzchak Binds Us
To what degree must we be ready to give our life like Yitzchak? Do we have time to prepare for such a scenario? How far into the future does Yitzchak’s act, which defied time and nature, live on before G-d? Why is it that at the end of days, it is Yitzchak, and not Avraham and Yaakov, who intercedes on behalf of the Jewish nation? These are important questions in probing the nature of kiddush Hashem, the effects of kiddush Hashem and how pure holiness can save physicality.
It’s breathtaking to encounter the act of the Akeida from Yitzchak’s perspective. No notice, no time to adapt, no time to ponder but an act of sacrifice fully embraced. He walks with his “father,” his Father in Heaven and his father of flesh and blood, Avraham, with swiftness and joy. Can we actually mimic and adapt to giving our life with little notice and full enthusiasm as Yitzchak, or can we prepare for it in methodical fashion?
A commentator makes a fantastic inference from the Talmud (Berakhot 61b) that recounts the final moments of Rabbi Akiva’s life. Rabbi Akiva’s students are baffled by how Rabbi Akiva could recite Shema even while his flesh was being raked with iron combs. The Talmud gives Rabbi Akiva’s answer: ‘All my days I have been troubled by the verse: With all your soul, meaning: Even if God takes your soul. I said to myself: When will the opportunity be afforded me to fulfill this verse? Now that it has been afforded me, shall I not fulfill it?’
The commentator infers from the words, “When will the opportunity be afforded me…that Rabbi Akiva had to wait for a kiddush Hashem to present itself. One can’t initiate or hasten it, only if it presents itself does one have the opportunity to fulfill it. This gives an opening for everyone to prepare for such a time, though we will never know if it will present itself. We might not be able to adapt as quickly as Yitzchak, but we can prepare daily should the scenario present itself.
Yitzchak’s act of self-sacrifice exists before G-d’s eyes every day. This is based on the verse (Leviticus 26:42), “And I will remember My covenant [with] Jacob, and also My covenant [with] Isaac, and also My covenant [with] Abraham I will remember. And I will remember the Land.” The Midrash (Bereishith Rabbah 56:9) notes that there’s no word of remembrance in the verse by Yitzchak because his ashes lie before G-d [in the present]. This binds Yitzchak to the past, present and future, and stands well as a pillar of strength for us, children of this giant, who was able to adapt quickly and with a full heart to die for the Creator.
Knowing the force, purity and above-nature qualities of Yitzchak, we can come to understand why he is our final advocate. The Talmud (Shabbos 89b) recounts how in the future G-d approaches the Avot and asks them to defend the Jewish nation for always sinning against Him. Avraham and Yaakov say that the Jewish People should be “obliterated for the sake of His name.” However, Yitzchak argues for our plight.
Yitzchak argues that the nation of Israel is G-d’s children. Further, he notes how life is so short and man must engage in physical acts such as sleep and eating which deducts time from his life, and reduces the time needed to perform mitzvot. Eventually, he says that he will bear half the guilt for the Jewish people and G-d should bear the other half. The Talmud concludes that Yitzchak was successful, and he reunited the nation of Israel with G-d.
Yitzchak is our advocator? The pure korban. The Av above nature? In fact, it makes very good sense. Yitzchak knew our limitations of the physicality in this world. When you’re detached, you have perspective and the ability to understand and sympathize. Yitzchak rose above everything in this world and could therefore save those down on earth, the nation of Israel, that tries to use the physical to serve G-d as best they can.
Recently, Harav Beryl Weisbord, Mashgiach of Ner Israel in Baltimore, gave words of chizuk to try to give comfort in these difficult times. He brought the verse (Deuteronomy 14:1), that says, “Banim atem lashem elokeichem, lo titgodedu ve-lo tasimu karchem bein eineichem la-met - You are children of God, You shall not gash yourselves or shave the front of your heads because of the dead.” The question asked is what connection is there between the beginning and the end of the verse? Why by the fact that we are children of G-d should we not cut ourselves when enduring the loss of relatives?
The Sforno powerfully says, that we have a “Father” forever that never leaves us in life and in death. This is a loving father that is with us always. Therefore, we must mourn when we lose our own parents, relatives and friends, but not exhibit such extreme grieving knowing that we have an eternal Father that never leaves us and is with us forever.
Yitzchak, our advocate, lives before our Father on a constant basis. Unprepared, he engaged in the greatest self-sacrifice. But we can prepare for it every day. We can also be consoled by the fact that our Father is with us always, in life and in death, and can therefore practice true emunah, where we choose to do the right thing and then entrust G-d to do whatever is best.