Each one of our forefathers excelled in a particular character trait. Avraham was the paradigm of Chesed. Yitzchok was the model of reverence and service to G-d, and Yaacov was the prototype of being a man of truth.
Rabbi Yaacov Kamenetzky o.b.m. points out something thought-provoking regarding the challenges each of our forefathers faced.
Avraham introduced and spread monotheism to the world, he extended kindness to all, and he reproached human sacrifice. Yet he was the one challenged by G-d to offer his son as a sacrifice. This did not make sense to Avraham, and he could have been accused of being a hypocrite. Yet he followed G-d’s directive until he was told to stop.
G-d commanded Avraham to leave his homeland and his parents and settle elsewhere. Avraham’s kind nature would not have chosen such a path, but he listened to G-d.
G-d instructed Avraham to expel Hagar and his son Yishmael, and again he listened, although it was against his kind nature.
Yaacov, the man of truth, was challenged with being untruthful when he presented himself before his father disguised as his brother Aisav in order to receive the patriarchal blessings. Yaacov listened to his mother’s prophetic instruction to do so.
Yaacov, as related in this week’s Parsha, had to deal with one of the most deceitful people, his father-in-law Lavan. Yaacov needed to manipulate the birthing patterns of the sheep so that the colored and patterned sheep would remain his and not be taken deceitfully by Lavan.
After Rachel gave birth to Yosef, Yaacov gathered his family and picked up and left Lavan without informing him.
All this paints a picture of Yaacov not being suited to be called the man of truth, yet in our daily Shacharis – morning service – we recite the verse, “Give truth to Yaacov.”
Reb Yaacov Kamenetzky explains: In establishing the foundation of the family of Israel, G-d chose to challenge our forefathers specifically with that which went against their grain and nature. This was to prove that the Chesed that Avraham was devoted to, and the Emes – truth that Yaacov stood for, was not a result of their basic nature, rather, it was a result of their adherence and commitment to G-d’s directives and ways.
Thus, our forefathers were challenged with instructions that went against their nature. When they overrode their basic nature and listened to G-d, it proved that whatever they did was from clear devotion and service for the sake of Heaven.
We addressed our forefathers, Avraham and Yaacov. What about Yitzchok? What was his challenge? Right off the bat we would say, the Akaida – the binding of Yitzchok, when he was ready and willing to be sacrificed.
However, looking at Yitzchok’s nature, we see that he represented strict justice and strength. To Yitzchok, being bound on the Altar was not a challenge, as the Torah describes, “He went together – as one with his father.”
So what was Yitzchok’s challenge? Reb Yaacov cites the following passage of the Talmud. In the future, G-d will approach Avraham and Yaacov and tell them, “Your children sinned to me.” Both will respond, “Well, if they sinned justice should be meted out.”
G-d will then approach Yitzchok. We would assume he would say, “Justice should be done.” However, the Talmud tells us otherwise.
Yitzchok will come to the Jewish people’s defense. He will say, “G-d, you tell me my children sinned. Are they not Your children? In the Torah, doesn’t it say that You called the Jewish people, “My first born?”
Yitzchok will continue, “Even if You cannot tolerate all their sins, let me take half their sins and You take half.” Yitzchok then will add, “Even if I take all their sins, don’t You recall that I offered myself to You?” The Jews at that point will declare to Yitzchok – you are our father – for you effectively came to our defense. Yitzchok will then turn their attention to G-d and say, “You G-d are our Father our Redeemer forever is Your Name!”
Says Reb Yaacov, Yitzchok’s challenge will be when he goes out of his comfort zone of strict judgement and use his merit of being bound on the Altar to defend his children from strict judgement. At that point he will demonstrate the characteristic of a soft, kind, and loving father by being willing to absorb their sins!
In each of our lives, we are met with challenges of all sorts, spiritual, emotional and interpersonal. Our forefathers were challenged as well. Just as they dug deep into their reservoir of belief and trust in G-d to prevail and triumph, so too, they invested their amazing qualities and strength into us – who are their children and the children of G-d!