Not All Methods of Serving Hashem Are Created Equal1
By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein
“Avraham obeyed My voice, and observed My safeguards, My commandments, My
decrees, and My Toros.” Most of us intuitively consider this pasuk
synonymous with the message that the Avos observed the Torah before it was
formally given to Man at Sinai. The pasuk, however, makes mention
only of Avraham, but not the others. While the premise is certainly
correct, it is significant that the Torah makes the statement explicit
only in regard to Avraham.
This is not the only anomaly linked to Avraham. He seems to be the only
one of the Avos who was put through the paces of a series of
nisyonos2. Why should this be?
Why weren’t the other Avos tested in the same fashion? Moreover, the
Torah takes less for granted when referencing Avraham’s spiritual level.
For example, when Avraham turns to Soroh, saying, “Now I know that you are
an attractive woman,” in effect the Torah tells us volumes about the
general modesty both of them practiced. Surely, the level of the other
Avos was also beyond our comprehension. Why, then, does the Torah
casually assume it in its discourse only in regard to Avraham?
The Zohar enriches our understanding of one of the themes in the lives of
the Avos. Wells keep showing up in each of their stories. Just why are
they so important? The Zohar relates Avraham’s wells to his mission in
life. Digging those wells means uncovering the existence of HKBH, and
then sharing belief in it with the rest of the world. With Avraham’s
death, the Plishtim reverted to their idolatry, thus covering up the well,
or blocking the continuing flow of Avraham’s teaching. Yitzchok’s
subsequent uncovering of his father’s wells means that he began
instructing the world once more in the lessons with which his father had
This approach is certainly enlightening. But it creates new questions in
its wake. Why was the digging and redigging of wells important to only
Avraham and Yitzchok, but not to Yaakov?
The explanation is as follows. The wells represent the specific
midah, the approach to serving Hashem, that each of the Avos
specialized in. Avraham’s well was a source of chesed and
ahavah; Yitzchok’s brought forth din and gevurah.
Yaakov is associated with Tiferes, an amalgam of chesed and
gevurah. It did not reveal a new facet of Hashem for people to
relate to, but combined the teachings concerning two midos that
were by this time already known to others. Yaakov did not discover and
reveal a new midah, so much as reengineer two older ones. It makes
perfect sense that Yaakov does not dig wells of his own!
Once we accept this approach, we quickly comprehend why it was only
Avraham’s wells that were vandalized, while no one rose to undo the work
Yitzchok put into his restoration of wells. The spiritual effort we
expend in changing our inner selves sometimes brings only temporary gain.
The lessons we learn, the madregos we achieve, are often fleeting
accomplishments. This is not universally true, however. Some of our
investments are secured. The spiritual effort that we put into
establishing the very basis of our service of Hashem – the core belief
that there is a Din and there is a Dayan (that there is judgment, and
there is a Judge) - does not dissipate, is not spoiled and perverted in
the course of time by the machinations of the Sitra Achra3. More simply put, yiras ha-onesh,
the fundamental awareness that there are always consequences of our
actions, cannot be changed into something less deserving. There is no
nearby competitor with which to confuse this awareness.
By contrast, the same cannot be assumed regarding ahavas Hashem,
the love of Hashem. Ahavah, while it is the higher madregah, is
often redirected to improper objects, creating an ahavah “fallen”
from its lofty perch, leaving in its place a misshapen, distorted
caricature of the original. The Plishtim could easily undo, counteract
the teaching of Avraham; they had no recourse against the teaching of
Yitzchok. (We understand why the Zohar cautions that the first step we
take in our service of Hashem must be yirah, even though it is not
as elevated an approach as is ahavah.)
Things begin to fall into place. Nisyonos are meant to test the
mettle of our accomplishments. Ahavah’s gains can be temporary or
illusory. To be important, they need to withstand the tests that are put
to it. Avraham served Hashem throught the midah of ahavah;
therefore he needed to be tested. Yitzchok, who served Hashem with
yirah (as well as Yaakov who incorporated yirah in his mixed-
midah approach) required no nisyonos! His yirah was
not open to interpretation or faulty revision.
At the pinnacle of Avraham’s success, he needed to borrow from territory
not as familiar to him. At the Akeidah, Hashem says about him, “Now I
know that you are one who fears Hashem.” How did the ultimate test of
Avraham’s love for Hashem morph into a demonstration of Avraham’s yiras
Hashem? Our discussion above provides the answer. Because Avraham
specialized in ahavah, he recognized how the precariousness of his
accomplishment. He girded himself for the Akeidah by drawing deeply from
yirah to help him through the event. Hashem took note of that
yirah. Because Avraham was so involved with ahavah, he alone
required nisyonos, and he alone required the protection of the full
gamut of observance – “My safeguards, My commandments, My decrees, and My
Toros” – for his method of Divine service to remain pure and intact.
Thus, all the details of the parshah lead to the same conclusion – the
absolute imperative to build our avodah on a firm platform of yiras Hashem.
1 Based on Nesivos Shalom pgs. 165-166 2 See, however, Maharal, Derech Chaim, pg 222 3 A synonym for the cosmic force of evil