By Rabbi Moshe Bloom
Torah VeHa’aretz Institute
“… but do not take my son back there.” (Bereishit 24:8)
Our only patriarch who was born in the Land of Israel, never to leave, was Yitzchak. In this week’s parashah, we find Avraham warning his servant (Eliezer, according to the Midrash) not to take Yitzchak out of the Land of Israel in order to marry (and marriage is one of the reasons for which it is permissible to go abroad). In next week’s parashah, we find G-d warning Yitzchak to stay in Gerar and not travel to Egypt, despite the famine. Pursuit of a livelihood is another such case for which one is allowed to leave the Land of Israel.
We see this only regarding Yitzchak. Avraham was born abroad, where he lived the first 75 years of his life. Even after arriving at the Land of Israel, he went down to Egypt because of the famine. While Yaakov was born in the Land of Israel, he had to flee to escape the wrath of his brother Eisav. After he eventually returned, he later went down to Egypt, where he lived the final years of his life and even passed away there (but was buried in Me’arat HaMachpeilah). We see a pattern: the first patriarch was born abroad, the last patriarch died abroad, while the middle patriarch lived his entire life in the Land of Israel.
These unique guidelines that applied only to Yitzchak are explained by our Sages by the fact that he was an offering sanctified by his father Avraham at the Akeidah. “Just as if an olah sacrifice is disqualified if it leaves the Temple enclosure, the same is true with you: if you leave the Land of Israel, you will be disqualified (Bereishit Rabbah 64:3). However, it seems that the fact that Yitzchak became this “unblemished sacrifice” is the result of his unique role that he was to fill as the nation’s middle patriarch.
The trait of Yitzchak Avinu was that of din, strict justice, related to the trait of gevurah, inner strength. The standard of strict justice examines everything vis-à-vis if it serves the ultimate goal, and if not, it has no reason to exist and is destroyed. This exacting standard does not give any second chances to rectify the situation in the spirit of “loving the creations and drawing them close to the Torah,” the trait of loving kindness of Avraham Avinu. Strict justice knows no tolerance nor does it give the benefit of the doubt. It asks only one question: is this action completely genuine?
G-d created the world with the standard of strict justice, our Sages teach us. However, He saw the world would not be able to live up to that standard, which is why He mixed in the trait of mercy, middat ha’rachamim. G-d did not substitute justice with mercy; rather, He added mercy into the equation. The standard of justice is vital, otherwise the world would tolerate evil to the point where evil would destroy all goodness, G-d forbid, ultimately leading to the world’s total destruction. Strict justice helps us remember the true goal in life and keep us on track.
It is not for naught that Yitzchak was the middle patriarch. As the middle patriarch, he symbolizes the internal, concealed aspect of the patriarchs and of the Jewish People as a whole. Yitzchak Avinu represents the utmost core of the Jewish People, which is often hidden beneath the surface and cannot always be seen by the human eye. Yitzchak shows us that the Jewish People, beneath all of its external layers, pines for its Beloved—to serve Him and call out His name. It is from the strength of Yitzchak Avinu that we all have a bit of the “unblemished sacrifice” in us that is bound up completely with sanctity — that comes from the sacred Land of Israel, which Yitzchak never left.
The world in which we live is a blend of strict justice and mercy; otherwise, it would cease to exist. Our world is not idyllic, and we often get off track, make mistakes, and even sin. This is why it is essential to engage in introspection every so often and do a cheshbon nefesh, a personal reckoning of our actions, employing the standard of strict justice: are our actions completely genuine and correct, or are they inauthentic and smack of falsehood? For a few minutes every day, we need to be Yitzchak. During this time, we examine the inner, genuine aspect of our actions and ask ourselves if they contribute to our ultimate goal as Jews and as part of the Jewish People: serving G-d and calling out in His Name.
This standard of strict justice will inform us that there are certain actions we have to stop immediately. However, there are also behaviors that require long-term, gradual work to change. It is here that we should mix in the trait of mercy — not to surrender in our struggle with evil, but rather so we can uproot it thoroughly and completely, even if the process takes more time.
Rabbi Moshe Bloom is head of the English department of Torah VeHa’aretz Institute. Torah VeHa’aretz Institute engages in research, public education, and the application of contemporary halachic issues that come to the fore in the bond between Torah and the Land of Israel today. For additional information and inquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 972-8-684-7325.