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Thought for the Day: The Avodas HaShem of the Avos

When I think of Yitzchak Avinu, the picture I have is someone serious and strict.  Yaakov Avinu, when referring to the G-d of his father, uses the appellation "Pachad Yitzchak" (the fear of Yitzchak).  Yitzchak is "din"/strict letter of the law, no nonsense.  Certainly the terms "warm" and "fuzzy" don't even enter even the room in which my mind is sitting.

Yet, the gemara (Shabbos 89b) relates how (based on a pasuk in Y'shayahu) will be saved in the future by Yitzchak Avinu.  HaShem, says the gemara, will come to Avraham Avinu and tell him that his children have sinned against Him.  "Wipe them out for the sanctification of Your name!", says Avraham Avinu.  Next HaShem will turn to Yaakov Avinu; after all, Yaakov Avinu suffered the trials of rearing children (the sale of Yosef, rape of Dina, and on and on).  So again HaShem says to Yaakov Avinu that his children have sinned against Him.  "Wipe them out for the sanctification of Your name!", says Yaakov Avinu.  (Things are looking bleak, no?)

Finally HaShem will turn to Yitzchak Avinu.  At this point one is tempted to close the gemara; with Avraham and Yaakov pulling for punishment, just the thought of Yitzchak Avinu is frightening.  HaShem says to Yitzchak Avinu, "Your children have sinned against Me."  Yitzchak replies:
 When they put na'aseh before nishma, You called them "b'ni b'chori" (my great and royal child).  Now that they sinned they are my children and not Yours?  Besides, how much did they sin, anyway?  The first 20 years don't count; that leaves 50.  Have of those 50 years are night time (ie, they are sleeping); that leaves 25.  Half of those 25 years they are praying, eating, or using the facilities; that leaves 12½ years of sinning.  If You can take all of that, great.  If not, I'll split it with You.  If even that is too much, I'll take all of it.
What happened here?  What happened is that I was wrong from the beginning (shocking, I know).  Yitzchak Avinu was not a stern, strict person.  He was a man of boundless love and compassion.  This is explained by beautiful insight from R' Dovid Kronglass in Sichos Chachma u'Mussar [as quoted by Beis Moshe (R' Moshe Roberts) on Beis Elokim (The Mabit), Sha'ar 2, Chap 9, Footnote 248.  The avoda of Yitzcha Avinu was strict justice because he worried that if you only discuss love, people will come to sin.  They will have a tendency to become overly familiar, so to speak, with HaShem Yisbarach.  Only a select few (such as his exalted father and mother) are able to work only the loving kindness side of the equation in their relationship with HaShem and yet not come to sin.  Most people need to balance fear of punishment and then awe of grandeur with their love of HaShem.  So Yitzchak Avinu lived a life of extreme strict justice davka to  bring the world to love HaShem while staying away from sin.  In that way Yitzchak Avinu was actually expressing the most exquisite love for both his Creator and his descendants.

Avraham Avinu had his cheshbon; Yaakov Avinu had his cheshbon.  Each had his approach to avodas HaShem.  I just found it particularly striking how Yitzchak Avinu's personality on the one hand and approach to avodas HaShem on the other hand could be so seemingly at odds.  A true eved HaShem (servant of HaShem) does everything because it is right and nothing because it is easy.


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