The Inverted Sequence of the Patriarchs
Towards the end of the Tochacha [chastisement], the Torah says, "And I
will remember My Covenant with Yaakov and even my Covenant with Yitzchak,
and even My Covenant with Avraham will I remember, and the Land I will
remember" [Vayikra 26:42]. Rashi comments on the inverted chronological
order of the Patriarchs. Rashi explains: "Yaakov by himself would be
worthy of this merit (that I will remember and redeem you), and if he is
not worthy, adding Yitzchak's merit will tip the balance, and if that is
not sufficient, Avraham's merit will be added to the combination."
Rav Meir Shapiro addresses this same question with a different insight.
Chazal teach us that each of the three Patriarchs symbolized a certain
character trait. Avraham's attribute is Chessed [kindness]. Yitzchak
personifies the attribute of Avodah [Divine Service]. Yaakov Avinu
represents Torah. Rav Meir Shapiro noted that there was a time that Jews,
despite the exile and its distractions, were meticul ous not only in
kindness and not only in prayer, but they were meticulous in Torah study
as well. The study houses were full of learning.
The Torah is teaching that when the Jews are in exile, G-d will remember
that they perpetuate the attribute of Yaakov Avinu - they cling to Torah
study; it is learned and it is spread throughout the nation. If in such a
historical period, G-d will be ready to redeem us then our redemption will
come in the merit of Yaakov Avinu - the zechus of Torah.
But as the exile has persisted, Torah study has become less and less a
factor in the lives of Klal Yisrael. Fewer and fewer people learn. The
burden of persecution and the toil of everyday living precluded Torah
education beyond a very tender age. People went to Cheder until Bar
Mitzvah and then had to leave school and make a living to help the family
make ends meet. Only the select few continued on beyond "Yeshiva Ketana"
[elementary school]. But even in such a period, where To rah was not
widely learned, Jews still always davened. Avodah persisted with much
deeper roots than the intellectually challenging dedication to Torah
study. If redemption were to take place in such an era, then it would be
credited to the merit of the Patriarch Yitzchak.
And then, continued, Rav Meir Shapiro, the exile persisted such that Torah
learning was weakened and even shul attendance diminished. But there still
remained an attribute amongst the Jewish people that would stay with them
forever - the characteristic of the Patriarch Avraham - the attribute of
We see there are Jews who have no connection to Torah or to Avodah. They
are never seen in the Beis Medrash [study hall] or even the Beis Kenesses
[synagogue]. But they do take leadership roles in establishing hospitals,
orphanages, and all kinds of social welfare organizations.
This, Rav Meir Shapiro says, is the interpretation of the pasuk [verse] in
Parshas Bechukosai: I hope to re deem Klal Yisrael for the merit of their
Torah study (the attribute of Yaakov); if not that then for the merit of
their dedication to prayer (the attribute of Yitzchak); but if not that
then at least I will redeem them for their dedication to Chessed (the
attribute of Avraham).
Rav Ruderman, the late Ner Israel Rosh Yeshiva, once quoted to me a
teaching from Rav Elchanan Wasserman. The Talmud [Pesachim 107b] expounds
on the pasuk at the beginning of Parshas Lech Lecha: "I will make you into
a great nation and I will bless you and I will magnify your name and you
will be a blessing." [Bereshis 12:2]. The Gemara explains: "I will make
you a great nation" - this refers to the fact that we say "G-d of
Avraham". "I will bless you" - this refers to the fact that we say "G-d
of Yitzchak". "I will magnify your name" - this refers to the fact that
we say "G-d of Yaakov."
The Gemara continues: "I might think that we should mention all of them in
the conclusion of the Blessing?" (Magen Avraham, Yitzchak, v'Yaakov). To
counter this notion, the pasuk concludes "and you will be a blessing" -
meaning with your name (Avraham) they will conclude, not with a
combination of all the names.
Rav Elchanan interprets the words of the Talmud "becha chosmim" (with you
will be the conclusion) homiletically: At the end of time, at the
conclusion of all generations of history, the final redemption will not
come about through Torah or through Avodah but "becha chosmim" with your
attribute of Chessed will your children merit their final redemption.
For Deeds Surpassing Wisdom, Have Faith
The following insight is found in the sefer Moser Derech on the Haftorah
of Parshas Bechukosai.
Rav Elazar ben Azariah states [Avos 3:17]: "One whose wisdom exceeds his
deeds can be compared to a tree with many branches and few roots. Such a
tree is easily uprooted by the wind." The Mishna supports this statement
by quoting a pasuk from our Haftorah: "He will be like a lone tree in the
wilderness and will not see when goodness comes" [Yirmiyahu 17:6].
The Mishna continues, "However, one whose deeds exceed his wisdom may be
compared to a tree with few branches and many roots. Even all the winds in
the world will not topple such a tree. As it is written, 'He will be like
a tree that is planted near water, which will spread its roots alongside
brooks, and will not see when heat comes, whose foliage will be ever
fresh, who will not worry in years of drought and will never stop
producing fruit.'" (another metaphor from our Haftorah) [Yirmiyahu 17:8].
In the context of the chapter in Yirmiyahu, these two pasukim refer to
neither wisdom nor deeds. The context is set in the 5th pasuk: "So says
Hashem 'Cursed is the man who trusts in people and makes mortals his
strength, and turns his heart away from Hashem.'" The prophet chastises
the people and warns that adversity will strike the man who trusts in man.
It is such a person who is like "a solitary man in the wilderness".
Then in the 7th pasuk, the prophet issues the contrasting
statement: "Blessed is the man who trusts in Hashem and in Hashem he
places his trust." It is such a person who is compared in the next pasuk
to the tree planted by the water.
Why then does Rav Elazar ben Azariah marshal the pasuk in Yirmiyah to
support his teachings regarding one whose wisdom is superior or inferior
to his deeds? There seems to be no connection, based on the context of the
pasukim in the Haftorah?
Rabbeinu Yonah in Avos asks a simple question: How is it possible for a
person's deeds exceed his learning? If one has never learned and does not
know what to do, on what basis is he able to perform meritorious deeds?
Rabbeinu Yonah answers that if a person accepts upon himself to do
mitzvos, he gets credit as if he has done already them. There is an
analogy to this in connection with the acceptance of Torah at Sinai. When
Klal Yisrael uttered the famous words "We will do and we will hear"
(na'aseh v'nishma), they received credit as if they already fulfilled the
entire Torah. Such people's deeds surpass their knowledge. They do not
know anything yet. Nevertheless, they are credited with having done great
The nations of the world mocked the Jews as a hasty people (amma peziza).
But the Jews answered that they have faith in the Almighty. "If He
commands it, it must be worth observing. We know that He will not give us
more than we can handle." When one has that implicit faith in the
Almighty, one is willing to ac cept.
This is the connection between the teaching of Rav Elazar ben Azariah and
the pasukim in Yirmiyahu that speak about one who has faith in Hashem.
Bitachon [faith in the Almighty] equates with one whose deeds exceed his
This write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher
Frand's Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah Portion. The
halachic topics covered for the current week's portion in this series are:
Tape # 011 Rationing Medical Care
Tape # 012 - Can Teachers Strike?
Tape # 054 - Life Insurance: The Torah Policy
Tape # 055 - Candle Lighting & Havdalah: How Early & How Late?
Tape # 097 - "Ribis" Problems of Interest for the Jew in a
Tape # 098 - "Cheremei Tzibur": A Ban on Living in Germany?
Tape # 145 - Kidney Donations: Endangering Oneself to Save Another
Tape # 192 - Making Shabbos Early
Tape # 282 - The Physician's Obligation to Heal
Tape # 328 - Sh'mita and the Heter Mechira
Tape # 372 - Using Shuls As A Shortcut
Tape # 416 - Supporting Jewish Merchants
Tape # 460 - The Obligation of Checking One's Teffilin
Tape # 504 - Lag B'Omer
Tape # 548 Marrying for Money
Tape # 592 Ribis and the Non-Jew
Tape # 636 The Kedusha of the Ezras Noshim
Tape # 680 - Is Ribis Ever Permitted?
Tape # 724 The Chazzan Who Changes His Mind
Tape # 768 Dos and Don'ts of Treating a Lender
Tape # 812 How Much Is That Tiffany Necklace?
Tape # 856 Distractions When Performing A Mitzvah
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Transcribed by David Twersky
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman, Baltimore, MD
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