The Avos , the forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaacov represent eternal spiritual qualities in Am Yisrael1 and in order for a Jew to understand his spiritual psyche, a grasp of the foundations that were the Avos is vital. The spiritual personality of the Avos are the clues to one’s own spiritual personality and in them lie the hints on how one can live one’s own life in a manner which is productive spiritually and fulfilling personally.

This week we are exposed to aspects of the spiritual psychology of Yitzchok and what makes him so great. Conclusions can be drawn by each Jew as to the extent to which he is included in, and inherits, the level of greatness of Yitzchok.

The distinction of Am Yisrael is the spiritual greatness we have by inheritance from varying combinations of mixes of the three Avos, Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaacov. Primarily however, the quantity and quality of greatness exists because every Jew has a neshamah and every neshamah is a spark of HaShem (see The Ladder Up, Building Block No. 6). There is no such notion as a Jew whose spirituality is insignificant.

A much commented-on phrase in the Torah2 is “these are the generations of Yitzchok son of Avraham, Avraham gave birth to Yitzchok.”3 There are no idle repetitions nor superfluous letters in Torah. Whole libraries are learned out from just one letter and even its formation. Yet in this phrase, it says that Yitzchok is the son of Avraham and then repeats that Avraham gave birth to Yitzchok. Why is the repetition necessary? Rashi gives a simple, common sense explanation. Sarah had been childless all her life. In order that people should not suspect that Yitzchok was conceived from King Avimelech, their host in the land of P’lishtim, Yitzchok looked very like Avraham.

But, why is the repetition made now when Yitzchok is already a grown man?

The answer lies in the spiritual similarities which existed amongst the differences between Avraham and Yitzchok.

Avraham served HaShem with Chesed (kindness) and love.

Yitzchok served HaShem with Gevurah (strength and fear).

Nevertheless there is overlapping of those aspects of their service.

Yitzchok is the concept of strength. Focus for a moment on Yitzchok, rather than Avraham, in the story of the Akeidah (when Avraham was to slaughter Yitzchok). No doubt the Akeidah was an unbelievable test for Avraham — but what about Yitzchok?! After all, he was to be the victim, and we know he knew this. Yet he still walked with his father “together”!

Notwithstanding this, Yitzchok is also connected to Chesed and love. Yitzchok in Hebrew means to laugh. Joy is the opposite emotion to fear. There is a story of the Tzemach Tzedek4 who once drank a copious quantity of alcohol — enough to bring down a more robust man. Joyful, partly due to this alcohol, the Tzemach Tzedek suddenly paused and passed his hand over his face. He was instantly totally sober. Later, one of the closer Chassidim asked the Rebbe what had happened. The Tzemach Tzedek explained that joy (and the euphoric state the alcohol induces) is dissipated by fear. The Rebbe passed his hand over his face and thought of himself standing in front of G‑d Almighty. As a tzaddik, he was so filled with dread he immediately became sober. We learn from this that fear is the opposite of joy.

So although Yitzchok is strength and fear, and although fear is the apparent opposite of joy, Yitzchok also served with joy as is evidenced by his name. In the Hebrew original, a name describes a person’s essence.

One of the paradoxes, explains the Rebbe, in these concepts of Chesed and Gevurah between Avraham and Yitzchok is that they both had both; Avraham whose Chesed also had some level of Yirah , (fear) and Yitzchok whose Gevurah also had some level of Chesed (joy). Proof of fear for Avraham is in the Akeidah. As he was about to slice through the throat of his son, he was ordered to stop by the Malach (angel) saying, “Now I know that you fear G‑d”. The information that he fears G‑d is paradoxical about the person who is Chesed incarnate — the apparent opposite of fear.

There is nothing in physicality that does not have a source in spirituality. Two people with the same physical features must have similar spiritual features. Although Avraham is Chesed and love personified, and although Yitzchok is Gevurah and fear personified, there must be something in common to each of them for them to look alike in physicality.

There is a vast difference in a person when feeling fear and when feeling love. When a man loves his father or a father his son, he experiences closeness. That feeling of closeness by definition requires consciousness of his essence. He is aware of a sense of self. If I love my father there is a feeling of “I” doing the loving. There is, furthermore, a closeness between the subject and the object being loved. On the other hand, when a person has fear of something, the fear engenders a shrinking of the self. A man standing in front of a king, (a real king with power of life and death on a whim) will feel fear with the attendant nullification of self. The more fear, the less feeling of self.

So Chassidus explains this important distinction; fear has a property about it which minimizes one’s feeling of self, whereas love nourishes the presence of self because the self is part of the loving process.

Ideally the ultimate way to serve HaShem is in two ways; that of a servant (Yirah , fear engendering self-nullification), and in the way of a son (with love and a consciousness of, and sense of responsibility for, self).

Every reader will immediately recognize this distinction in his own personal dialogues with HaShem. One promises tzedakah in exchange for some need; another promises extra care with a mitzvah if it doesn’t rain and the clothes can be left on the line to dry. However lofty or mundane one’s prayers, every Jew will recognize times of begging out of fear as a frightened servant, and times of thanks and appreciation out of love as a grateful son trusting in The Ultimate Parent.

The Rebbe explains the ultimate path for a Jew combines both love and fear. The best order is fear followed by love. Fear removes the bothersome involvement of self, allowing for a person to give and experience real love and its resultant closeness, which then in turn nourishes a genuine consciousness of true self. Premature consciousness of self tends to be bloated self-involvement with ones imagined importance. it is vital first to be stripped of all one’s baggage leaving room for the blossoming of real love. If one tries to serve HaShem out of love first, then the focal point in that relationship is oneself. For example, a son in his father’s business will work for the father’s business more than an employee. He will work harder than 9 to 5 because it is his father’s business, not the business of some stranger. Ultimately however, this additional motivation has as much to do with his own personal end reward than the desire to serve. Of course, if there is only fear, there will be an impoverished relationship because, as we have seen, there can be no element of closeness in fear.

The ideal combination then, is first fear and then love. First the bittul (self-nullification) which strips one of this feeling of self and then the love engendering warmth and real closeness.

The great tzaddik Reb Zusha of Anapole, in common with many tzaddikim, knew when he was going to die. He invited his Chassidim to his Shabbos table on the fateful day to watch and learn. During the course of their interaction, the Chassidim noticed their Rebbe crying. Understandably everyone became quiet with embarrassment. One of the Chassidim, who history will remember for his outspokenness, asked Reb Zusha why he was crying; being a tzaddik, he would know that he was bound for Gan Eden. Why then this apprehension? Certain of reward, how could be he crying?

Reb Zusha’s answer reverberates through the consciousness of Chassidic history. Reb Zusha turned to the Chosid and explained that he was not in fact required to fulfill the potential of great tzaddikim; he was crying in terror of whether he had fulfilled the potential of Reb Zusha!” Had he succeeded with Reb Zusha’s givens? Had he properly exploited the potential G‑d had given him?5

This is bittul , the fear component. Once this level of fear is in place, all action out of love will be healthy. The involvement of self will exist only insofar as necessary for the closeness between Jew and G‑d when a Jew is fulfilling his purpose in his relationship with HaShem.

Yitzchok, the son of Avraham, Avraham gave birth to Yitzchok stresses the love relationship personified by Avraham with the above critical distinction and that is why there is repetition and something extra added. The extra added is the critically important level of fear. Greatness can be attained with this additional dimension.

This is the week in which we are shown how to attain the specific greatness of Yitzchok in addition to the greatness of Avraham. This is achieved by ordering one’s service to HaShem first with healthy fear (service as a servant) and then with love, (service as a son). It is this combination which allows a Jew, with the heritage of Yitzchok to elevate gradually the World and himself. This process realizes a Jew’s spiritual potential and allows his life to bloom into nachas and simchah.