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Countering the Scoffers

Prepared by Rabbi Shraga Dovid Homnick.

The parsha begins with a pasuk which reads: “This is the history of Yitzchak, son of AvrahamAvraham begat Yitzchak.” The second, seemingly redundant statement is explained by Rashi to allude to the fact that there were those who scoffingly claimed that Yitzchak’s real father was Avimelech, and Hashem consequently responded by reshaping Yitzchak’s face to resemble Avraham’s, thus attesting to the fact that “Avraham begat Yitzchak.”

This implies, of course, that Yitzchak had initially not been born in Avraham’s likeness, and there’s even a Gemara which states that Hashem “switched” Yitzchak’s face, suggesting that they had previously looked completely different. This is surprising in view of the fact that children typically bear resemblance to their parents. Yet we’re told that if not for Hashem’s extraordinary intervention, Yitzchak’s appearance would have borne no similarity to his father’s!

Furthermore, although the soul and body ordinarily diverge, the physique of loftier, more refined individuals is more in sync with their spiritual side. Considering that Avraham and Yitzchak were both being equally saintly, it’s therefore even more surprising that they weren’t naturally alike.

Tampering with the Merkava

The Rebbe explains that it was the avos in particular who are renowned for excelling in distinct modes of avodaAvraham in chesed and Yitzchak in gevura. While both are rooted in holiness, and all of the avos were certainly able to make use of each other’s midos, their natural approaches to serving Hashem remained apart, and can even be deemed opposites.

In fact, it can be argued that Yishmael, being chesed of klipa, was more identical to Avraham in overall temperament, and Esav was likewise closer to Yitzchak in nature. So in view of the fact that the avos were inherently quite different, and considering that their bodies were extremely in tune with their souls, the natural outcome was that they were visually dissimilar as well.

Chesed is likened to water, both of which flow downwards, reaching out to whatever is present below, whereas gevura is compared to fire, seeking to detach and rise above, and thus these two midos are, at their core, completely at odds. The avos, in turn, are likened to the merkava, the supernal chariot, where the face representing chesed faced rightward, and the face representing gevura leftward,  emphasizing the great contrast between them, which is even more profound than the mere difference between actual fire and water.

This all serves to enhance our appreciation for the significance of Hashem’s act in response to the scoffers, because to change Yitchak’s appearance to match Avraham’s was in essence to tamper with the model of the merkava.

All to Save a Jew

Parshas Toldos is always read in conjunction with the month of Kislev, the month associated with the revelation of the inner dimension of Torah. The revealed part of Torah is like chesed, water, engaging with the materialism of the lower world, being readily accessible, whereas the concealed part of Torah is entirely spiritual, and is focused upward.

This raises the question: If the Torah itself established these distinctions, what right did the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples have to reveal what was concealed?! Certainly they were acting with Hashem’s consent, even on his command, but what indeed called for such a fundamental change?

We can now appreciate that when the identity of a Jewish child is at stake, when the ‘scoffers’ seek to sever his connection to Avraham, it is specifically Yitzchak, gevura, that which is concealed, that Hashem renders into Avraham, revelation. Indeed, a deeper reason is given which is that chasidus was revealed as a preview of the imminent appearance of Moshiach, but, simply explained, this expresses Hashem's willingness to alter deeply embedded rules so that a Jewish child is unmistakably connected to Avraham.

For further learning see ש”פ תולדות תשכ”ה - לקו”ש חלק ה’ בהוספות.