DID HASHEM FORGET?
This week's Torah portion contains the tochacha, the famous harsh rebuke of the Children of Israel for not following in the ways that Hashem commanded. However, though the Torah portion begins on a negative note, it ends in an inspiring manner.
This week's Torah portion contains the tochacha, the famous harsh rebuke of the Children of Israel for not following in the ways that Hashem commanded. However, though the Torah portion begins on a negative note, it ends in an inspiring manner. Hashem tells us that He will forgive the Children of Israel once they repent and change their ways. This uplifting section begins with an interesting verse: "I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember, and I will remember the Land" (Leviticus 26:42).
Linguistically, this verse is quiet difficult for a number of reasons. Rashi, the famous and fundamental 11th century French commentator, quotes a midrash that asks an obvious and enlightening question. Why does the Torah only use the language of 'remembering' regarding Jacob and Abraham, but not in relation to Isaac? Could it be that Hashem remembers Isaac less than the others?
The midrash, as quoted by Rashi, presents an answer that requires some clarification. It states that Hashem sees the ashes of Isaac as if they were on the altar. This statement is making reference to the akeidah, Isaac's near-sacrifice at his father's hand described at the end of Parshat Vayera (Genesis 22:1-19). Aside from the apparent irrelevance of the akeidah to the question at hand, we must first understand what the midrash is talking about, for as you may recall, Isaac was never sacrificed and therefore never burned on the altar. At the last moment Hashem rescinded His command. If that's the case, how can the midrash give such a seemingly erroneous answer speaking about Isaac's nonexistent ashes?
The midrash's perplexing answer demands clarification. The akeidat Yitzchak (sacrifice of Isaac) was a tremendous test of faith which serves as the paradigm of Isaac's greatness. Already 37 years old and mature in his character development, Isaac was willing to act in accordance with Hashem's command to give up his life. This faithful attribute stemmed from Isaac's passive nature. Throughout his life, his greatness is shown through his lack of action. He went back to the same cities to which Abraham had previously been in order to reinforce or strengthen what his father had already done; rarely did he do anything on his own initiative. It was at his famed sacrifice that Isaac's passivity is most strongly felt which characterizes his whole life and personality. Hashem therefore views Isaac as if he actually burned at the altar, since he was willing to give his life even at the very last moment. The ashes, which would have been the fulfillment of the sacrifice, remain before Hashem as a permanent reminder of Isaac's greatness. Therefore, the Chofetz Chaim, the late 19th and early 20th century saintly Torah scholar and leader of world Jewry, explains that since Isaac's ashes are always seen, there is no need for remembering.
This understanding of Isaac clarifies both questions. The reason why Isaac is not "remembered" in the verse is simply because he was never forgotten. It is unnecessary to remember something which constantly remains in the forefront of one' consciousness. Therefore, in answering the question, the midrash refers to the akeidah, the medium by which he was never forgotten, to express Isaac's greatness -- his passivity.
Hashem is telling the Children of Israel about their punishments for their sins and how Hashem will forgive them. The actions of the Children of Israel were so offensive that they could not ask for mercy from their iniquities. But through the merit of Isaac, who represents greatness through lack of action, the Children of Israel could repent and ask Hashem to overlook their horrible sins by focusing on their lack of action. Isaac's passivity allows us to be great through our own passivity. Our avoiding a negative situation can sometimes be tantamount to meeting a positive one.
Micah Gimpel, a native Atlantan and graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is currently a junior at Yeshiva University in New York.
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