Rabbi Raphael Katz
Johannesburg 2004

The Gmara in Shabbat 89b relates a discussion that will take place leatid lavo, in a future time, between G-d and the Avot. G-d is presented as confronting each of the Avot, with His dilemma of the Jewish People’s sinning against Him. Both Avraham and Yakov suggest that the Jewish People should be “obliterated for the sake of His name”. Yitzchak, however is presented as defending Am Yisrael, eventually accepting all their guilt as his own.Yitzchak retorts.”…Aren’t Am Yisrael Your Children Hashem? Furthermore, how many sins could they have comitted- a Man’s years are seventy. Deduct the first twenty, since you Hashem don’t exact punishment then. Deduct from the remaining fifty, half, for those are spent sleeping at nights.Of the twenty five left deduct half, for those are spent on praying, eating and attending to physical needs.Thus only twelve and a half years of potential years to sin remaint….of those I will take half responsibility and you Hashem take the other half …” In so doing, the Gmara relates, that Yitzchak successfully redeems Am Yisrael, reuniting them with their Father in Heaven.

How is it possible that Yitzchak, who is characterised as epitomising strict Justice- Midat Hadin – is seen here as defending Am Yisrael, although they justifiably have done wrong, and are thereby deserving of punishment? Should it not be the task rather of Avraham and Yaakov, usually characterised as epitomising kindness and mercy respectively, to defend Am Yisrael in their hour of need? Here we see, however, that it is specifically, Yitzchak- Justice that enables Am Yisrael’s salvation.

Yitzchak’s quality of Midat Hadin, strict Justice finds expression in his blessing of his son, Eisav. When blessing Eisav, Yitzchak says “By your sword you shall live, but your brother you shall serve; yet it shall be when you will be aggrieved, you may remove his yoke from upon your neck” (Genesis 27:39,40). Rashi explains this bracha as meaning that when Am Yisrael is not conforming to Hashem’s will and transgressing His laws, that Eisav will be “aggrieved” by Yaakov’s having taken the Birthright from him. At this time, Eisav removes Yaakov’s dominion over him (by the sword?).

How could Yitzchak, father of the Jewish people, bless Eisav in a way that would ultimately be painful to the Jewish people? Is this strict Justice befitting the Father of our nation?

Yitzchak’s midat hadin is thus seen on the one hand defending the Jewish people (above mentioned Gmara), and on the other hand causing them pain (Eisav’s bracha). How can we understand this Midah in a way that encompasses these contradictions?

Upon reflecting on Yitzchak’s bracha of Eisav, we can understand the purpose of the pain that Eisav may exact upon Am Yisrael, not as the pain of a revengeful punishment but rather as the punishment of a loving parent who only causes pain in the short- term in order to benefit the child in the long-term. Here too, Yitzchak’s demand for strict justice and exacting punishment on Am Yisrael through Eisav, ultimately is to mezakeh et Am Yisrael l’olam haba (to give merit to Am Yisrael in the future time). Indeed the “Shaarei Orah” goes as far as to explain that – “Yitzchak’s love for Esav,”ki tzayid b’fiv” to mean, that Yitzchak favoured Esav’s Criticism of Yaakov, (Am Yisrael) ,which is forever in Esav’s mouth! Esav’s criticism makes for Yaakov’s vigilanceand prevents complancency.

So too, in the aforementioned Gmara, Midat Hadin again proves to come to the salvation of Am Yisrael, since it is that the very characteristic of pure Justice, to be the source of pure kindness when it is applied to itself. Yitzchak is the critique of criticism, he is the one who can accurately find fault with the very process of fault-finding. When the Jews stand to be prosecuted, it is the very quality of Justice that can redeem them.