Despite Yitzchok Avinu’s physical blindness, there is no doubt that he saw more than we will ever see with his spiritual greatness. How are we to understand, then, his relationship with his son Eisav? It’s impossible to say that Eisav was able to fool his father so completely that Yitzchak believed he was a tzaddik. Yet, there is also another time when Yitzchak sees only the best in his children. The Gemara (Shabbos 109) describes the following conversation which will take place in the future.
Hakadosh Baruch Hu will tell Avraham Avinu, “Your children have sinned against me.” Avraham will answer, “Let them be destroyed to protect Your Name!” When Hashem will repeat this statement to Yaakov Avinu, he will respond the same way as Avraham. Only Yitzchak Avinu will defend his children. “Are they my children, Hashem, and not Yours? In addition, man’s life span is only 70 years. For the first twenty they aren’t liable for their sins. Divide the remaining fifty in half for nighttime and sleep and you now have 25. Divide that in half again for davening, eating, and bodily functions and there are only 12 and a half. Let’s split that 12 and a half. I will take half and You, Hashem, take the other half.”
Once again, Yitzchak seems to be able to see the good, even when Avraham and Yaakov can’t or won’t. What is it about Yitzchak that allows him to see the good in a rasha like Eisav and in Klal Yisrael when they sin?
At first glance, Yitzchak’s ability to see good seems to conflict with his middah of gevurah, which represents strict judgment. Rav Tzadok HaKohen explains that part of the concept of gevurah is that it limits gevurah. In other words, when you make a judgment, gevurah allows you to see that the judgment itself is flawed! Being a person with gevurah doesn’t mean judging everyone strictly; rather, it means judging people exactly how they should be judged.
In regards to Klal Yisrael, that means knowing, that despite their mistakes, they are Hashem’s children and therefore kadosh.
Mefarshim explain that Yitzchok hoped Yaakov and Eisav would form a partnership similar to the one later formed by Yissachar and Zevulun. In other words, Eisav would provide while Yaakov sat and learned. This is why Eisav needed the brachos. Through gevurah, Yitzchak was able to see that Eisav had the potential to be a tzaddik and an equal partner with Yaakov. And that is why he loved him. We have to remember that Eisav HaRasha, who on his 15th birthday committed all three cardinal sins, had the ability to be like Yaakov.
Rashi explains that until they grew up, the differences between Yaakov and Eisav weren’t readily apparent. This is in line with our understanding of Eisav; his potential was always there, he just didn’t actualize it. The medrash tells us that at the seudah of Moshiach, Eisav will try to sit with the Avos. How could he possibly believe that he deserves a seat up front or anywhere for that matter? How could he possibly believe himself worthy? The answer is that Eisav knew he had the capability and felt that his abilities were equal to that of the Avos. He did not realize that it’s not about what you can do, it’s about what you actually do. In the end, a person will not be defined by his brilliant mind, good heart, or even his best wishes; rather, he will be defined by what he has accomplished in this world.
Just as it’s true that Eisav was not pre-destined to be evil, it’s also true that no tzaddik was born righteous. We tend to look at gedolim as if they were born that way. However, nothing is automatic. While the potential for greatness was there, it was their choice to bring that greatness to reality, from potential to actuality.
There is a well-known story about the Nitziv, the rosh yeshiva of Volozhin. He made a seudah to celebrate the completion of his sefer Emek HaBracha. At the siyum, he explained why he felt the need to celebrate his accomplishment. “When I was a young boy, I didn’t take my studies seriously,” he said. “One night, I heard my parents discussing sending me to be an apprentice shoemaker. I burst into the room and promised my parents I would become a more serious student. Imagine if I had become a shoemaker. When I would come to Shamayim, they would ask me why my sefer had not been written. I would answer incredulously: How can I write a sefer, I’m only a shoemaker?! This is why I’m celebrating, because I didn’t let my abilities go unused.”
The lesson for us is that nothing is set in stone. Our abilities are only important if we use them. No one is born into holiness and or into evil. We are what we make ourselves. It’s easy to say, “That’s just not who I am.” In truth, however, we may be blind to what we can do and whom we can become. Great people made a conscious decision to achieve greatness. Each of us has kochos that need to be tapped into. Let’s not sell ourselves short; let’s aim to reveal our true greatness.
May we all be zoche to use our G-d given abilities to their fullest and be our true selves, igniting the spark of greatness which lies inside all of us.