Recently I went to a shiur on Yitzchak Avinu and found that it applied in many ways to my own father whose name was Yitzchak.
Yitzchak, the most ambiguous of the forefathers, is hard to describe. Avraham is closely associated with hachnasat orchim and chesed, and Yaakov is the father of our nation, B’nei Yisrael. Yitzchak is often described as serious, exacting, din, and yet his name is Yitzchak, to laugh, which seems to be a contradiction in terms.
How do we resolve this dichotomy?
Yitzchak was the paradigm of one who sees his existence as miraculous, as something that shouldn’t have been, someone who came into this world against all odds. Besides his parents having been too old to have a child, midrashim state that Sara didn’t have a womb. The laughter comes from the unexpected fact that he even exists. This keen sense of existence is balanced with an ability to laugh at the pure intensity of life. Yitzchak teaches us to laugh at ourselves, not to take ourselves too seriously, since life is almost too serious to comprehend. Yitzchak achieved the balance of knowing that the world was created for him yet we are all but dust of the earth.
Yitzchak came to teach us how to temper Avraham’s unlimited kindness, chesed. He introduced gemilut chasadim – limiting kindness. He was the first one in Tanach to be weaned, gemila, which teaches us in many aspects of our lives (relationship with our spouse, parenting, etc.) how we can wean ourselves from too much. Too much kindness, and too much giving which in many cases leads to being overwhelmed, frustrated and burnout.
And lastly, Yitzchak shows us the true meaning of laughter, a confident, mature laughter that comes from knowing that what you’re doing is right and that you’re on the right path. If someone chides you, be it on an individual level or on a national level, it is just that, a lighthearted, ignorant laughter.
As I focused on the healing powers of Yitzchak, I thought of my own Abba, Yitzchak ben Tzvi and Leah.
As a doctor, he was well aware of the fragility of life and yet cherished every moment and was able to “laugh” at the absolute miracle of living in this precarious world.
He taught me to enjoy each moment that is given to me and taught me through his example to persevere no matter what, since it’s G-d who gives life. And my father knew what was right even if it wasn’t popular or wasn’t the thing to do, like moving to a settlement in Israel. How proud he was of that. He would say don’t worry what other people say, “You’re doing the right thing.” Let them laugh. It’s not true laughter.
And like Yitzchak our forefather you were always filled with hakarat hatov.
I miss you terribly, every day. But like Yitzchak Avinu, your legacy lives on in your children and grandchildren who love you and continue to draw strength and laughter from you.Michal Mauer Silverstein