Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

28 Cheshvan 5762 - November 14, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
The Dread of a Patriarch

by L. Jungerman

"`And Yitzchok feared an exceedingly great fear' -- said R' Levi in the name of R' Chomo bar Chanina: Yitzchok experienced two fears. The one when he was laid upon the altar for sacrifice and the other, when Eisov entered. And how are we to know which was the greater? Since it is written here `An exceedingly great fear,' we may infer that this was the greater" (Midrash Tanchuma).

This particular midrash is explained in a Torah periodical, Ohel Moshe, which was published in Galicia before World War II. Written by R' Meir Zev Lau of Mezeritch, it is awesome in its revelation.

Yitzchok was aware that, as a patriarch, a founder of the future Jewish people, everything that happened to him foreshadowed the future of his children. Every action, every event, would have far-reaching implications and repercussions, for every single thing represented an entire period in the history of Jewry.

This is why he was so deeply aroused and anxious about the two pivotal events in his life. They would reflect two types of epochs that would involve both the spiritual and material aspects of his descendants' existence to the degree that they would actually hang in the balance by a hairsbreadth of leeway.

R' Levi expands upon these two events which caused Yitzchok such emotional turmoil. During the Akeidoh, when he lay bound upon the altar, Yitzchok foresaw in a vision that there would come a time when his children would be in crisis, they would not only be bound, but actually led to the slaughter and killed. They would be burnt at the stake, decapitated by the guillotine, hanged upon gallows -- but throughout, these sons would stretch forth their necks in acceptance and even urge the executioner to get on with his task so as to spare them the sight of their brethren being killed.

In his vision, he saw his future descendants anticipating the enemy's religious coercion forcing them to deny their faith: and in their fear that their young children might succumb to threats or enticement after they were dead, they would preempt the enemy and slaughter their own children by their own hand, saying, "Since we are not privileged to raise you to Torah, we shall offer you, instead, as sacrifices and incense" (from the kina "Hacharishu eilai va'adabeira -- Be silent before me and I shall speak").

Yitzchok envisioned a woman and her seven sons being martyred for Hashem's sake. He verily heard the mother's cry when she charged her sons, "Follow me." Yitzchok Ovinu lies bound upon the altar and sees all this in a prophetic scene.

He is shocked; all of his bones tremble with the fear of death, and he pours forth the ruminations of his heart before Hashem, saying, "Master of the world: here I lie, bound upon the altar, willingly, for I am prepared to do Your will. And who is it that bound me? My very father, my own merciful father! Lo! How happy and fortunate I am to become a pure sacrifice unto Hashem. But alas, my children will be bound by their enemies, by those who thirst for their blood. They will be tortured by all kinds of torments. I am afraid for them, for who knows? Who knows if my sons will be able to withstand these trials? Will they have the strength to persevere? I am so afraid for them. The vision is too fearful for me."

Then there was the second time of dread, when Eisov entered with the delicacies for his father. Here Yitzchok beheld a vision of his descendants being subjected to a different approach of eventual decimation by their enemies. Those who sought the downfall of Jewry would apply the principle of the sun, that is, a tactic of warmth, proximity, like the wicked Bilaam, and attempt to destroy them by making them sin, causing them to forget their G-d and His Torah.

The nations of the world will beckon to Jewry and say, " `Return, O return, Shulamis.' Come close to us. We welcome you with open arms. We will raise you to high positions: we will make rulers, ministers and noblemen of you" (Midrash Rabba Bamidbor). The common man will naively think that the gentiles are truly concerned about the betterment of their fellow man and will fail to discern the terrible poison and venom that follow this call of camaraderie. And the blind masses will be led astray; they will follow the promiser of favors and fall prey.

Only the eyes of the people, the spiritual leaders, men of caliber and stature, are ever capable of reading the evil intentions upon the enemy's foreheads, so to speak, of the evil ones, and divining their wicked purpose. And they bemoan the harm done to Jewry. They see the subterfuge, the undermining of good Jewish faith done by the friendly approach.

This period of befriending is much more harmful to Jewry, Yitzchok Ovinu knows, than overt hatred and religious coercion of shmad when people know to be wary, when they see the danger so starkly. And of this, he was deathly afraid.

R' Levi concludes: "And you cannot know which [of the fears] was the greater."

Which of the two circumstances was the more treacherous for the survival of the Jewish people? Which threatened Jewish endurance throughout the exile? The fact that the Torah indicates that this fear [of Eisov] was exceedingly great shows that this was the greater threat. The worst enemy is the one who appears as a friend, whereas the overt enemy, who makes no pretense of love and brotherhood, is the known factor. One can be on guard against him and his obvious animosity.

As the Gaon of Vilna is said to have interpreted the verse, "Hashem is at my assistance and I shall see [to deal with] to my enemies." Dovid Hamelech begs Hashem to provide His assistance when his enemy appears as a comrade and helper, when he pretends to seek his welfare. "I hope to be able to see," to be aware and cognizant of the danger posed by these enemies and to see their true colors.

There are periods of "wind," frosty blasts, when the gentiles are virulent in their hatred towards Jewry and their evil designs are obvious to all. At these times, we are on guard, we are wary, we do not succumb to seductions against our faith for we know they only mean evil.

And then, there are the periods of "sun," when they smile upon us and appear to us like concerned brothers seeking only our welfare. They flatter us and obsequiously promise that "Lo, the land is spacious before you. Settle in our midst, eat of its bounty, for who deserves the fat of the land more than you!"

At such times in history, our Sages understood that all the well-wishing is a ruse, it is a trap set with poison that will kill our faith, chas vesholom. The common folk might be tempted to follow the lure, to succumb to temptation, to be seduced and misled from the true path. To follow the deceptive light of their false sun.

R' Levi points out how much greater was Yitzchok's dread when Eisov entered his tent bearing the delicacies. The threat of this beneficial overture, this lure of Eisov to destroy Yaakov through so-called love, was far more insidious than the threat of the gentiles who seek to kill us outright, to slaughter us upon the altar of their hatred. Death is a test Jews can withstand far better than goodwill, love and the promise of emancipation, equal rights and brotherly love. During the latter periods, Jewry must fortify itself doubly to recognize the enemy and his wiles and withstand his lures, to remain separate, apart.

Only thus can we hope to survive as an eternal nation, a living, existing people for now and evermore.

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