Jonathan Muskat
Jonathan Muskat

We Need a Little More Yitzchak in our Lives

On the surface, Yitzchak seems to be the least exciting of all of our Avot.  He stays in Canaan for his entire life and during the most significant events of his life, from the Akeda in Parshat Vayera to the blessings in this week’s Parsha, he comes across as a passive figure, someone who is the object of a sacrifice by his father or the object of manipulation by wife and his son.  He also comes across as someone who is a bit out of touch with reality, someone who cannot communicate effectively with his wife, which is why, according to the Netziv, Rivka could not bring herself to talk to Yitzchak about how she felt about Esav.

Our Sages, however, seem to view Yitzchak in a different light.  According to the Midrash in Breishit Rabba, while Avraham sent his servant to find a shidduch for Yitzchak, Yitzchak was looking for a shidduch for Avraham, as he convinced Hagar to return to and remarry Avraham in Be’er Lachai Ro’i.  This was the same Hagar who, together with her son Yishmael, posed a threat against Yitzchak as Avraham’s spiritual heir.  This was the same Hagar that Sarah sent away against the wishes of Avraham.  Yet Yitzchak brought her back, and he lives in Be’er Lachai Ro’i, presumably to reconcile with Yishmael, as well.  Perhaps this is why Rivka and Yitzchak disagree about how to deal with Esav.  It’s not that Rivka couldn’t communicate with Yitzchak because she was intimidated.  Rather, the two parents had two different parenting philosophies.  Rivka is a realist.  She sees Esav for who he is and knows that he can never be part of Yitzchak’s spiritual legacy.  However, Yitzchak does not care.  He wants to bring the family back together.  He refuses to acknowledge that Esav is beyond hope.

Yitzchak, then, emerges as the greater defender of Hagar, Yishmael and Esav.  One of the early famous Chassidic Rebbes was a man by the name of Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, who was known as the great defender of the Jewish people.  Elie Wiesel wrote that “As for Rav Levi Yitzchak, he never said a bad word about His children.  On the contrary, he extolled their virtues in his own heart and to God.  His motto:  man must criticize himself and praise his fellow man…  The destitute, the ignorant, the misfits sought him out.  His presence made them feel important; he gave them what they needed most:  dignity.” Before there was a Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, there was a Yitzchak Avinu, a Patriarch who always looked for the good in everyone and tried to bring his family back into the fold.

We often need Sarahs and Rivkas in our lives to set boundaries and anchor us in reality.  However, too often we write people off.  Because unfortunately many of us have been hurt, and we emerge from the experience not just with emotional harm, but with a cynical view towards others and towards the world.  It is only natural then to rush to judgment about others’ motivations and intentions without giving others’ the benefit of the doubt.  Today more than ever we need a little more of Yitzchak in our lives.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.