Looking Back & Moving Forward -
The Chain of Tradition


1)      "But we are Your people...children of Avraham [Who] loves You...the descendants of Yitzchok his only one...the congregation of Yaakov Your firstborn son...." [Siddur]

a)      Avraham is related to Hashem through love; Yaakov is related to Hashem as His firstborn; but Yitzchok is related to Avraham as his only one.[1]

b)      "Hashem appeared to Yitzchok and said...I will bless you...because Avraham hearkened to My voice and guarded My statutes, commandments, laws and teachings.[2] "Hashem appeared to him [Yitzchok] on that night and said, "I am the G-d of Avraham your father - do not fear for I am with you and I will bless you and I will multiply your descendants for the sake of Avraham my servant."[3] Yizchok receives his blessings because of Avraham. Never do we see that Yaakov is blessed because of Avraham or Yitzchok.[4]

c)      Avraham is chesed [lovingkindness]. Chesed is the sole purpose of creation and the source of all blessing. The blessings addressed to the Patriarchs are designated to reach their descendants through them. Avraham can be an independent conduit of blessing from Hashem to the Jewish people because he expresses chesed. Yaakov combines chesed with din, so he can be an independent conduit of chesed. But Yitzchok represents din. Din exists only as an application of chesed.[5]

d)      The Siddur expresses the fact that while all the Patriarchs are related to Hashem, for Yitzchok this relationship is mediated by his connection to Avraham.

e)      We learn from this that Yitzchok lived as a continuation of Avraham. Although his mida is different from that of Avraham, his new path exists only as an extension of the path blazed by Avraham.

2)      "And behold Hashem standing over him, and He said, 'I am Hashem the G-d of your father Avraham, and the G-d of Yitzchok..."[6] "And Yaakov said, 'G-d of my father Avraham and G-d of my father Yitzchok...'"[7] "And Israel journeyed with all his possessions and he came to Beer Sheva and he offered sacrifices to the G-d of his father Yitzchok."[8]

a)      The Kedushas Levi writes: "...Avraham went from the land of Israel to Egypt, that which Yitzchok did not do...therefore to Yaakov, who also had permission to leave the land of Israel, Avraham is called 'his father' and not Yitzchok - to teach that in this respect Avraham alone is Yaakov's father...."

b)      Compare: "Adah gave birth to Yaval; he was the first (lit. father) of those who dwell in tents and shepherd flocks. And the name of his brother was Yuval; he was the first (lit. father) of those who play the lyre and the flute."[9]  Here the word av designates a role model. The Kedushas Levi explains that Yaakov, about to leave Israel, is instructed by Hashem that in the coming period of his life Avraham is his av - his role model.

c)      When Yaakov returns to Israel and hears that Esav is coming to kill him, he prays to Hashem for help. Living in Israel, and facing hostility from an older brother, is something which both Avraham and Yitzchok experienced. Therefore Yaakov calls them both av. When Yaakov goes to Egypt to join Yosef, he reaches Beer Sheva and then worries: Do I have permission to leave Israel? Avraham left Israel during a famine, but Yitzchok was forbidden to leave Israel. Perhaps I too am forbidden? He offers sacrifices to Hashem as G-d of Yitzchok. And Hashem answers him in exactly those terms: "I am G-d, the G-d of your father - do not fear to go down to Egypt."

d)      What we learn from these verses is that at each juncture in his life, Yaakov looked to the experience of his father and grandfather for direction how to proceed, even though his path differed from theirs.

3)      "These are the heads of their ancestors: the children of Reuven, Israel's first-born - Chanoch...and the children of Shimon - Yemuel...and these are the names of the children of Levi according to their generations - Gershon...and Levi lived 137 years...."[10]

a)      Seforno writes: "With justification they [Moshe and Aaron] were appointed leaders of Israel, for they were honored above the whole nation. For, of Reuven's descendants, the only one worthy to be called by name were his immediate children [excluding later generations]...and similarly for Shimon. But Levi, who lived longer than all [of the others in his generation] [personally] raised his grandchildren [and later generations] to understand and to teach, and so did Kehas and Amram, in such a way that Moshe, Aaron and Miriam came from them..."

b)      The Seforno teaches us that Moshe and Aaron were distinguished precisely because they had a stronger link to previous generations than any of their contemporaries. Just as the Talmud teaches that he who teaches Torah to his grandchild [enables the grandchild to receive the Torah] as if he received it Sinai,[11] because the grandfather is one generation closer to Sinai than the father, so too Levi, Kehas and Amram took care to reduce the gap between their offspring and the Patriarchs. This is what qualified Moshe and Aaron for leadership.

4)      "And Hashem spoke to Moshe face to face as a man speaks to his friend, and he returned to the camp, and his attendant Joshua ben Nun...was never absent from the tent."[12] "After the death of Moshe, the servant of Hashem, Hashem spoke to Joshua ben Nun the attendant of Moshe saying."[13]

a)      After Moshe's death, Joshua became the leader to the Jewish people. The Gaon of Vilna comments on the first verse in the book of Joshua that Joshua is described as Moshe's attendant, not Moshe's student. This proves, says the Gaon, that it was Joshua's commitment to attending and serving Moshe that made him unique. As the Talmud says (and the Gaon cites): greater is serving Torah scholars than learning from them.[14] Joshua was never absent from Moshe's tent - he was committed to absorbing all of Moshe that he could - his teachings, his behavior, his demeanor - how he greeted people, prayed, ate, slept - in short, how he lived. It was that commitment which qualified him for leadership of the Jewish people.

5)      Each generation moves forward, faces new challenges, makes its unique contribution to the perfection of the world. But it can only do so by grafting the past onto the present and future. Only those who understand the lessons of the past and character of the present and future challenges can create the graft. Daas Torah.

a)      everything is in the Torah (Avos 5:28, Bart. to Avos 1:1); G-d looked into the Torah and created the world - Torah is blueprint of the world

b)       gezeros and takkanos - Hil. Mamrim 1:1-2; no shofar on Shabbos, Pruzbul: global psychological, sociological and economic evaluation in order to best implement Torah for society

c)      horo-as sha-ah - individual actions outside halacha for better implementation of Torah, based on social evaluation

d)      character development - Hil. Deos 1:4-6, 2:1,3: only the wise (in Torah) can determine what traits to develop and how to achieve them

e)      application to all areas of life - (Ber. 62a), “know Hashem in all your ways” (Prov. 3:6, Malbim; see Avos 2:12, Ber. 63a, Shemona Perakim 5)

6)      Objections

a)      The term daas Torah is 100 years old. Answer: a concept can be older than the term currently used to express it (“democracy” from 16th cent.)

b)      How will we learn independent, critical thinking and develop new experts? Answer: independence of thought does not imply independence of action (medical student vs. professor and textbook)


[1] The reference is to Gen. 22:2. There is an alternate text of the Siddur which reads "Yitzchok Your bound one" which relates Yitzchok to Hashem and thus maintains the parallel. This makes our text all the more surprising.

[2] Gen. 26:2-5.

[3] Gen. 26:24.

[4] Avraham, being first, naturally receives his blessings without reference to the later Patriarchs.

[5] See The Way of G-d by Luzzatto, II:8.

[6] Gen. 28:13.

[7] Gen. 32:10.

[8] Gen. 46:1. The Baal Haturim asks why in the first verse Avraham and not Yitzchok is identified as Yaakov's father. He answers that "I am Hashem" was said only to Avraham. But this answer will not help for the other verses.

[9] Gen. 4:20-1.

[10] Ex. 6:14ff.

[11] Kiddushin 30a, see Meharsha.

[12] Ex. 33:11.

[13] Joshua 1:1.

[14] Berachos 7b.


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