"`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
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
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
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
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
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.