Toledot, love and fear

In this week’s parsha, תולדות, Yitchak and Eisav are born. The beginning of their lives mostly take place in this portion. Too fast forward, Yitchak married Rivkah,  and they find themselves in גרר, the land of the Plishtim. This was where Avraham inspired the world, and dug up wells. The significance of these wells manifests in a statement Hashem vaguely tells Yitzchak: “עֵ֕קֶב אֲשֶׁר־שָׁמַ֥ע אַבְרָהָ֖ם בְּקֹלִ֑י וַיִּשְׁמֹר֙ מִשְׁמַרְתִּ֔י מִצְוֺתַ֖י חֻקּוֹתַ֥י וְתוֹרֹתָֽי inasmuch as Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge: My commandments, My laws, and My teachings.” On this Pasuk, Chazal comment in the Gemara: ״אמר רב קיים אברהם אבינו כל התורה כולה”, Avraham fulfilled the whole Torah. This lofty notion is only ascribed to Avraham, but, why? Was it because of his ten tests? Perhaps his hardships with Yitchak, or his distinct love for Sarah?

The Zohar equates this perception of Avraham in relation to his act of digging the wells in גרר. Deeper than the surface, the act of Avraham digging the wells displayed his newfound love and belief in Hashem. He was the first father to “dig the wellsprings” for his children, unearthing abundant spirituality for mankind. However, the Plishtim then came, closed, and blocked off the wells— literally and metaphorically. Because of this, Yitchak had to re-dig the wells Avraham had built. Essentially, he had to bring back the conviction of monotheism, and belief in Hashem. After these events, the wells did not ever need to be unearthed once-more. But, why was this notion of plowing only accredited to Avraham and Yitchak? What about the Avot subsequent to them?

This question can be resolved once one understands the unique traits of Avraham and Yitchak. Their characters, measuring to their Sefirot were discrete— predominantly opposite of each other. Avraham represented the Midah of חסד, the ultimate love for the Creator and His creations. His disposition of constant giving, inviting, and lessening of himself illustrate this attribute. As esteemed as these mitzvot and traits are, there’s one drawback of it—vulnerability towards negative traits and energies. Avraham was so imbued with palpable love, that it made him susceptible to fear, and dissent, there’s a lack of strength. In a certain sense, Yitchak’s traits counter these. Yitchak represented גבורה, strength. With his child Esav, Yitchak’s גבורה was clearly shown and understood. He broke through the fear and negativity which reigned the land of the Plishtim. Yitchak was then challenged with re-digging these wells. Avraham and Yitchak built parts of the world, and some of the largest tenants of our faith. The opposing, yet, equally necessary character traits are what was needed to lay the bedrock and foundations of Judaism. For this reason, it was only Avraham and Yitchak who dug and re-dug the wells, both spiritually and physically. 

This notion is proven with the emergence of Yaakov. After the traits of חסד and גבורה, Yaakov’s representation of תפארת in a sense is an amalgamation of the two. תפארת indeed has its own uniqueness, but one of its aspects is this glaring difference between love and fear, the diverging and requisite line amidst them.

The Beit Avraham explains that within the חסד of Avraham, was a deep seated love. In  the service of Hashem, there are methods of practice through both love and fear, אהבה and יראה. Avraham began, and built with love, but then it was all unearthed, because love alone cannot stand. The Slonimer Rebbe describes this phenomenon as an אהבה נפילה, a falling love. There needs to be a balance driven by fear and seriousness. We fundamentally need both, however with all things seemingly equal in life, there’s always one aspect measured greater than the other. In this case, the Slonimer Rebbe posits that the Middah of אהבה is indeed superior. Throughout life, if one has even the most minimal Avodah, it would be אהבה that leads them through. This is evident through the traditional Shabbat dinners, Yom Kippur fasts and Pesach seders performed by jews who are less observant. It is the love for Hashem which keeps them connected. The most widely known prayer associated with the Jewish faith is שמע. The words following it begin: “וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת ה’ אֱלקיךָ בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל מְאדֶךָ’”. Love for Hashem is the initial step, but it is does not represent the entirety.

The Hakdamat HaZohar explains that-“ פִּקּוּדָא קַדְמָאָה יִרְאַת ה׳” The origin point is to fear God. It’s a foundational requirement to serve Hashem. Love and חסד compose the more emotional vulnerable side and they must be balanced with staunch יראה.

Now it is understandable why the Akiedah was so difficult for Avraham. He didn’t have the full attainment of יראה. Binding his son to the altar, about to sacrifice him, Avraham followed the commandments of Hashem, but they contradicted his logic of existence. Perhaps, he had this test to establish that fear. To fully serve Hashem, we learn that we need a balance of both

The Arbah Ofanei Hakodesh, The Chernobyl Rebbe, explains that on our Seder plates we have two distinct symbolic foods. We eat the Marror, the bitter herbs, and also the Charoset. They have their own intrinsic meanings relating to Pesach, however they represent different Hashkafot. The Marror represents the jew who’s retracted, they enjoy the aesthetic lifestyle of solitude, fasting and retreat, they abstain from the physical. On the contrary, there’s the Jew who uplifts the physical, blessing their meals with meaning, enjoying the world for a greater purpose. We truthfully are meant to do this. We are not supposed to bring ourselves up towards the heavens, but to grasp the heavenly abode and bring it down where it is attainable. Yet, in truth, we need both.

As we learn the stories of our Avot, may we be Zoche to live up to their expectations and dispositions, growing for ourselves and our children.

About the Author
Yael Evgi grew up in Queens, New York, and attended YUHSG for high school. Yael was involved in NCSY and became chapter president in sophomore more year. She became a FIRE fellow in YUHSG, helping with the creation of Jewish programming. She was class president in her senior year. Yael studied in Israel at Midreshet Moriah for a year and a half. Yael's passion continues today in Stern as she studies Psychology and Judaic studies, hoping to serve Jewish communities in the future.
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