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Rectified judgment emerges from mercy

Isaac, Son of Abraham

Isaac, Son of Abraham

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Isaac, Son of Abraham
Rectified judgment emerges from mercy

The Midrash states that G‑d wanted to create a universe that would be administered solely by the attribute of Justice. (Bereishit Rabba 12 and 15) These Midrashim say that when G‑d realized that such a universe could not endure for long, He adopted the attribute of Mercy. ...the yardstick of the attribute of Justice...is applied only to the truly righteous…

I have also explained that one must not conceive of G‑d as having "changed His mind", having abandoned a previous plan, seeing that, "He is not human that He should have regrets". (Num. 23:9) All that happened to G‑d's original plan is that instead of the yardstick of the attribute of Justice being applied universally, it is applied only to the truly righteous. To them G‑d applies the most stringent yardstick. It is the application to them of the undiluted attribute of Justice which stamps them as superior creatures. They are but few in numbers. G‑d applies a mixture of the attributes of Justice and Mercy to the vast majority of people. In the future, however, when everybody will qualify as a member of that formerly select group, everybody will be judged by the undiluted attribute of Justice and will prevail even under such scrutiny. In the future… everybody will be judged by the undiluted attribute of Justice and will prevail…

It is impossible for people nowadays to qualify for such a status until after their bodies, i.e. the raw material their bodies are made of, have undergone a process of refinement, such as the experience of exile and other afflictions. The more such suffering the Jewish people experience, the greater the evidence that G‑d has decided to become very exacting with us in order to prepare us for that idyllic state.

When viewed from this perspective, we understand that the application of the attribute of Justice is really an expression of the greatest love of G‑d for the Jewish people. Isaac is usually referred to as "Isaac, son of Abraham"; this means that Abraham, who represented the attribute of chesed, was the natural forerunner of Isaac, who achieved the status of being worthy of the attribute of Justice.

The power of the son in this case proves to be greater than the power of the father, since the attribute of Justice is the highest form of the attribute of Mercy. G‑d rises, so to speak, from the throne called Justice and sits on the throne called Mercy. At that time the name Yitzchak (Isaac) which is related to the aspect of Justice, will be revealed as the source of joy, the deeper meaning of that name spelled as Yischak. (Psalms 105:9) The Zohar sees in the letters of Isaac's name when rearranged "kuf-tzadik chet-yud= kaitz chay," a hint of the attribute of Justice, since judgment ends in death, i.e. "kaitz chay", "end of life". In the future his name will symbolize joy as in Psalms 105. Abraham was the real reason Heaven and Earth were created…

We have repeatedly explained how Abraham was the real reason Heaven and Earth were created, as hinted in the spelling of the word "B'hi 'baram", meaning "in his making them" [the Heaven and Earth, which includes the same letters as the name Abraham]. In Genesis 2:4, Isaac, however, was the spiritual equivalent of Adam before his sin, since he was the first person who was conceived and born by parents both of whom had sanctified themselves. The damage Adam had done by sinning, which caused him to acquire a kelipa, husk [symbol of sin] was repaired by the removal of Abraham's foreskin. Our sages expressed this by saying that Adam pulled, i.e. disguised, the fact that he had no foreskin, as distinct from Isaac, sanctified (from birth) who became the equivalent of first man who had been formed by G‑d from holy soil. This may well account for the fact that he was not allowed to leave the holy soil of the land of Israel. (Gen. 27:2)

In order to appreciate the dimension of holiness which Isaac represented, it is fitting that we first see what the Zohar says on the subject of the Binding of Isaac. When Abraham was about to slaughter Isaac, the latter's soul flew away to be replaced later by a holy spirit from the Celestial Regions. It follows then that Isaac's life after the Binding of Isaac was the life of a human being who had not originated from a drop of semen. We must view Isaac as someone re-born in consequence of that experience: a totally new creature. G‑d had applied the strictest yardstick to him by letting him die, and subsequently infused in him a new soul. He had also sanctified his body; from that time on Isaac's body resembled that of Adam, also not the product of a drop of semen. Isaac had...become a fit carrier for the Presence of G‑d…

Now we understand also why the ram which Abraham sacrificed in lieu of Isaac was not the product of natural procreation, i.e. through semen, but was created during the period of dusk on the Sixth Day of Creation as reported in the Mishna. (Avot 5:6 When Genesis 22:13 describes this ram as "and here a ram after was caught, etc.," this means that this ram was created after all the other mammals had already been created and had procreated. The word "achar", meaning "after", therefore is to be understood in the same sense as the same word when Abraham said to the angels "achar ta'avoru".

Isaac teaches us about G‑d's very first objective when He set out to create this universe, which would develop to become as perfect as He envisaged it. Abraham, as the progenitor of Isaac, who had removed the foreskin which Adam had been gross enough to "pull down" (i.e. hide), became the person fit to be the carrier of the "the Presence of G‑d," as is clearly indicated in the verse, "G‑d ascended away from Abraham". (Gen. 17:22). This ascent occurred after G‑d had concluded an eternal covenant with him, as is specifically stated, "And I will maintain My covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear for you" (Gen. 17:21) This is a promise that in the future the world will achieve its perfection, as always planned by G‑d.

[Translated and adapted by Eliyahu Munk.]

Rabbi Isaiah HaLevi Horowitz [5320/1560 - 11 Nissan 5390/1630] served many years as chief rabbi in Frankfurt and then Prague, his birthplace. In 1621 he moved to Israel and became the chief rabbi of Jerusalem. He is best known as the author of Shenei Luchot HaBrit, a work of Scripture commentary and Jewish Law, and is usually referred to as "the SHeLaH", the acronym of its title.
He lived the last years of his life in Tzefat although his burial place is in Tiberias, only a few meters from the tomb of the Rambam. It is a popular pilgrimage site, especially on Erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan, which he himself recommended as a propitious time for saying the special prayer for success in educating one’s children that he composed.
Eliyahu Munk, the translator, was born in Frankfurt, and emigrated to England as a young man, later moving to Toronto. After retiring from education and moving to Israel in 1978, he began an extraordinary second career as a translator, publishing English versions of the Torah commentaries of Rabbeinu Bechayei, Akeidat Yitzchak, Shelah, Alshich and Ohr Hachaim.
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