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The Systems of the Jewish Year


By Rabbi Sender Haber

Our entire Parsha this week focuses on Yitzchak but still we know very little about him. One could easily mistake Yitzchak for being someone who had very little to say. Over the next few weeks we will read about how Yaacov runs out in search of a wife, deals with Lavan, raises the twelve Shevatim, faces Eisav, and later deals with the brothers as Yosef disappears and they gradually make their way down to Mitzrayim. We don’t have those exciting stories when it comes to Yitzchak.

First of all, it is important to point out that it is a mistake to think less of someone because they don’t do anything exciting or innovative. Yitzchak was strong in his belief and was the only link in the chain that connects us with Avraham. What happened to all of Avraham’s servants and students? They disappeared. They did not have the willpower, the courage and the structured life to carry on Avraham’s legacy in a world that was still unaware of monotheism.

Yitzchak was the only one who stood his ground. When he came to Gerar he noted that all of his father’s wells had been refilled. This was pure spite. It was as if Avraham had built a chain of Royal Farms with free gas across the Negev and Avimelech’s people came and burned them down.

Yitzchak stood his ground because he knew that the land was to be ours and that the wells were a part of Avraham’s way of teaching kindness and G-dliness to the world. He systematically re-dug all of those wells and gave them the same names that his father had given them. When Avimelech and his advisors came to see Yitzchok, he was not flattered into submission. He put them in their place and said “why have you come to me for help? You hate me.” Imagine if a politician in the Middle East had the courage to say that today. Yitzchak agreed to a peace treaty that lasted all the way until the times of Yehoshua, but it was on his terms and with a clear articulation of Avimelech’s motives.

This is the lesson of Yitzchok. Not innovation. Not teaching. Just courage. Courage to stand up for what he believed in a world that wanted him to just go away.

So many of us feel vulnerable in our lives. It’s the world we live in. We watch people lose money, their good name and their health. We see people working hard and not getting much reward. We feel like giving up.

It is at times like those that we need to remember Yitzchak. He just did what was right. He had no doubts in his mind and he went full speed ahead.

In Brisk during the First World War there was once a Jew accused of treason and sentenced to death. Legally, he could not be executed until the rabbi came and performed his last rites. The Brisker Rav refused saying that he would not have a hand in shortening the Jew’s life. They were at a stalemate. The government officials came to shul to get the Brisker Rav but he was davening Shemona Esrei. Knowing that they would wait he just kept on davening while they stood exasperated. Finally, they put enough pressure on the community and another rabbi went and performed the last rites. Immediately after the execution a messenger came running to the courthouse pardoning the man. The Brisker Rav was famous for this. He knew he was right and would not give in. the others were swayed – as we might be – by surrounding events and outside pressure.

We need to emulate the Gevuras Yitzchak – the strength of Yitzchak – and stand our ground for what we believe in.

(Based in part on Abarbanel)

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