Saturday, November 18, 2006

Toldos 27:12. The Akeida of Yaakov.

Emes Le’Yakov has a wonderful vort here: We find that each of the avos was faced with tests which required that they do something diametrically opposed to the character trait which they exemplify. This means they had to overcome the middah tova they had worked on their whole life, and even more: they had to do God’s will with alacrity when that will seemed to precisely contradict their understanding of God.

For example, Avrohom’s chesed meant not only that he worked on chesed his whole life, but also that he perceived Hashem as being purely chesed, loving kindness. His tests included the akeida, sending away Yishmo’el, and leaving his old father when God told him “lech lecha.”

IN this week's parshah we find Yaakov's akeida. Yaakov had to tell his father Yitzchok an untruth in order to recieve his blessings. Yakov was the avatar of truth, as it says "titein emes l'Yaakov," and for him, the need to say an untruth was an akeida.

Reb Yaakov asks, where was Yitzchok’s akeida (in the sense of a test which required absolute abandonment of personal wants and personal hashkafa)? He brings the Gemora Shabbos 89b where the avos were told that we, their children, have sinned, and only Yitchok said to God, “Are they my children and not yours?” and offered to bear the sins of Klal Yisroel. This was contrary to Yitzchok’s trait of strength/gevurah, which was to live life al pi middas hadin, by the rules of strict justice. Yaakov sought mercy for his descendants despite his adherence to unmitigated and strict justice.

We can apply this idea to the many times that we are faced with a life-changing test which forces us to reexamine, and possibly abandon lifelong assumptions, and to diametrically change our behavior, and to do what needs to be done with alacrity, dedication and unquestioning faith.

To reinforce this concept, we should remember the Gemora that says that when Reb Akiva was being tortured by the Romans for teaching Torah, as he was dying, he smiled. His student asked him, “Rebbi, how can you smile while you are in such extreme pain?” Reb Akiva answered “My whole life I attested that I would die for the sanctification of God. Now that I have a chance, should I not be pleased that I had the merit to do so?” The words Reb Akiva used are “kol yomai nitzta’arti/all my days I hungered for the opportunity.” There is another Gemora (Yoma 19b) which records the story of a High Priest in the Temple in Jerusalem who belonged to the Tzedukim, and whose beliefs were considered blasphemous by our sages. (At that time, the priesthood had passed from our control to that of the Tzedukim.) He told his father that he intended to perform a certain sacrificial rite in a manner which was anathema to the sages of the Mishna. His father told him, don’t you realize that when they see you, they will stone you to death on the spot? The Gemora records that his answer was phrased exactly as Reb Akiva’s answer— “kol yomai nitzta’arti/all my days I hungered for the opportunity.”, and I am not going to miss the chance to do it now. I believe that the Gemora chose to use a phrase that was identical to that of R' Akivas, who accepted martyrdom with joy. The Gemora is making the point that total dedication and conviction are not the exclusive possession of those who agree with us; that a man can spend his whole life with total conviction of the truth of his cause, and be ready and happy to die for that faith, and be 100% wrong.

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