In this week’s parshah our father Abraham leaves this world. His son Isaac is left to carry on his legacy. But who really is Yitzchok Avinu? Do you feel you know him? What is the meaning of his life?
“Among the patriarchs of the Jewish People, Isaac is by far the most mysterious. It seems to us that we know a lot about Abraham, the first of our Patriarchs … but what do we know about Isaac?”
Those words are from Rabbi Mattisyahu Salomon, esteemed mashgiach of Bais Medrash Govoha in Lakewood. Rabbi Salomon reveals the unique gift bequeathed to us by our father Isaac. What is that gift?
To a contemporary American, this sounds almost unbelievable, but when you contemplate it, it makes perfect sense. In every situation he confronted, Isaac did exactly what his father did, unless God specifically directed him to do otherwise.
In the mashgiach’s words, “It became Isaac’s life work not to seek new ways and new paths but to follow faithfully on the path trodden by his father. Abraham was a ‘maschil,’ a person who began things. He was a revolutionary, a pioneer…. Isaac was just the opposite…. Abraham had taught the ways of God and Isaac was not going to veer from his teachings even one iota. In fact, the only new ground Isaac broke was to establish that no new ground should be broken.”
Look at our world. We live in a society that is in a frenzy to create new things: new tastes, new pleasures, new technology, new legislation, new moralities, new slogans … the list is endless. If a product itself cannot be upgraded, it at least must have a new package. Even in Israel, everything must be “chadash.” And we all must know the latest news, of course, so we are glued to television, radio, the Internet.
Who sets the trends in Western society? The children do. Parents strive to imitate and to be accepted by the children. Even nature is included: Western society accepts almost unquestioningly Darwin’s theory, in which the species are constantly evolving. The old is constantly being supplanted by the new. The world is changing; nothing remains the same.
But as Shlomo HaMelech wrote in Koheles so long ago, “there is nothing new under the sun.”
We live in an insane world. Where it is all going? Where does the “newness” lead? We are so hysterical about “progress” that we have no idea where the progress is going.
Only two things have remained the same in this world: Am Yisrael – the Children of Israel – and the Torah that sustains us.
We are unique – the smallest nation, the most vulnerable. For two thousand years we have wandered the earth without a home, living for the most part among infinitely more powerful enemies who constantly plotted to destroy us.
And look: Am Yisrael Chai. We survive. We live and they are gone.
The Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greek Empire, the Roman Empire, the Crusaders, the Inquisition, the Turkish Empire, the Soviet Empire, the Nazi Empire, and soon, with God’s help, all our present enemies … gone.
Who has remained? The Children of Israel!
Why? Because we did not change.
In Egypt, we did not change our language, our clothing and our names, and thus we survived. To this day, we survive because we do not change one dot of our Holy Torah.
From whom did we learn this? From our father Isaac. Writes Rabbi Salomon, “This was Isaac’s life work, the establishment of the idea of unquestioning acceptance of tradition and the guidance of the sages.”
Do we realize how much we owe our Patriarchs? As our sages tell us, we are living on zechus avos, their merit. How strong they were to stand up to the entire world. How strong must we be to be to follow in their footsteps.
But yes, we can do it. How do we know? Because we have been doing it for the millennia since they walked the earth. Just as our father Isaac followed diligently and faithfully in his father’s path, so we have followed in our father Isaac’s path.
That path is good; that path is trustworthy. It is leading us to a new Garden of Eden, a new Bais HaMikdosh, an era in which we will live peacefully, happily and eternally in our beautiful Land of Israel.