He Who Laughs Richest1
Avraham called the name of the son born to whom - whom Soroh had born to
him – Yitzchok.
We often have to think a bit before we understand the meaning behind a name
in Tanach. Yitzchok makes it easy for us. The derivation of his name could
not be more apparent. Hashem told Avraham well before Yitzchok’s birth
that his son should be given that name. Soroh quickly confirms how
appropriate it was to link the birth of her son to the word for “laughter:”
“G-d has made laughter for me. Whoever hears will laugh for me.” The
nature of Yitzchok’s name seems to be firmly established and resolved.
Chazal, however, don’t quite see it that way. They detect another
dimension to Yitzchok’s name, one that projects Yitzchok’s unique avodah
into the future. They connect the name Yitzchok to the word “chok,” which
means fixed portion, or the sustenance fixed and allocated to each
person by Divine Providence. “Yitzchok – chok is dispensed to the world.”
Yitzchok’s importance to us, as well as Chazal’s mystifying insistence of
finding another wrinkle in his name, will become apparent when we properly
parse a few verses of the navi. “Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and at the hollow of the pit from which you were dug. Look to Avraham your
forefather, and to Soroh who bore you. When he was yet one alone did I
summon him and bless him and make him many. For Hashem will comfort Tziyon.
He will comfort all her ruins…” Avraham is depicted here as a hewn
rock, and Soroh seen as a dug pit. The navi instructs us to “look” at this,
which can only mean to examine this relationship in order to gain some
The images tell us about the way Hashem provides for us. Yitzchok serves as
the basis of our understanding how Divine Providence figures in providing
sustenance to us as individuals.
Consider a person in an arid climate looking intently for a suuply of water.
He picks a position, and digs in desperation. Should he happen to strike
water, he will regard his good fortune in hitting an underground spring as
near-miraculous. He cannot look upon the continued flow of water from the
spring in the same way. Springs provide water. There is nothing surprising
or miraculous about that. If he should be chiseling out a piece of rock,
however, and water begins to flow from the rock, he will have encountered an
overt, ongoing miracle. Rocks do not provide water at all.
These two images match the roles of Avraham and Soroh in the birth of
Yitzchok. Avraham, at least in regard to siring children, was like a
desiccated rock. There was no more vitality in him that could provide
children. Fathering a child in that state was like finding water in a rock.
Soroh, on the other hand, was different. She had returned to a youthful
state even before bearing Yitzchok. Her transformation was quite surprising
– comparable to hitting a stream of water while digging randomly. Once
transformed and restored to youth, however, bearing a child was natural enough.
Why the difference between them? HKBH wanted both to contribute to the birth
of Yitzchok, whose intense avodah of tefilah would be the backbone of all
future provisioning of Klal Yisrael. It would, at times, include both modes
– the overtly miraculous, and the seemingly “fortuitous.”
When the Bnei Yisrael were fed mon from Heaven and drank from Miriam’s
spring, there was no room to doubt the Source of their livelihood. Neither
they nor any outside observer could account for the survival of the Jews in
the wilderness through any other explanation.
This was not to last. Hashem’s Will dictated that our nation would be
maintained through less overtly miraculous means – through the rules of the
natural order. In fact, however, there is nothing less miraculous in this.
Our fortunes are linked directly to our tefilah and our mtizvos. As Ramban
so starkly states, all the promises and berachos of the Torah are
nothing less than miraculous. There is no natural explanation for why the
rains coming on time and the earth yielding its bounty should be contingent
on the avodah of the Jewish people, or why the Land will refuse to produce
for those who illicitly plant during the Shemitah year. Yet, this is
precisely what the Torah demands that we believe. The seemingly natural and
fortuitous way in which the laws of nature provide for us is not natural at
all. We receive what we do because of our spiritual output, which changes
the physical world for the better. It does to the natural world what Hashem
did to Sora before she conceived. He positioned her miraculously to be able
to bear children naturally.
Unfortunately, we react differently to these two modes. While there was no
gainsaying the role of Hashem’s Hand in the miracles of our forty year trek
through the wilderness, we are not so astute in detecting the link between
our avodah and our material success when He provides for us through natural
means. We are meant to understand that all these natural blessings are
directly linked to our Divine service; instead, we come to believe that our
success is a product of our own energy and ingenuity. In time, we gain
clarity and understand what is really at the root of our livelihood, but the
damage will have been done. While we learn the truth, the nations of the
world persist in the old, false understanding. Because they have not learned
the place of Divine Providence, their belief system allows them the latitude
to persecute us. This continues until such time that they, too, come to
recognize the role of Jewish avodah in their own well-being. (While the beis
ha-mikdosh stood, the seventy offerings of Sukkos showcased that role. In
the course of our galus as well, eventually the nations of the world will be
able to see how often their fortunes were dictated by changes in Hashem’s
providential relationship with the Jewish people.)
This is how we are to understand the passage in Yeshaya. When he – Avraham -
was yet one alone – and had no children, and was incapable of having
children, did I summon him. I did bless him with Yitzchok, and make him many
with all the children he fathered through Keturah. Although he was initially
incapable of having any children, I miraculously put him on a different
path. Once on that path, he was capable of having many children, quite
naturally. The trajectory of the parnasah of Klal Yisrael works similarly.
It is created miraculously, dependent upon Klal Yisrael’s spiritual output
of mitzvos and davening. Once created, its benefits spill over to others.
Even in galus, the other nations eventually take note of the correspondence
between Hashem’s beneficence to His people and their own good fortune. In
time, they will comprehend the roles of HBKH and of Klal Yisrael, leading to
much honor of Heaven. They will view the Jewish people differently. Through
that change, “Hashem will comfort Tziyon. He will comfort all her ruins.”
According to one opinion in the gemara, the original Torah reading for
Rosh Hashanah was entirely different from what we read today. Neither the
gemara nor Rashi explain why the original reading (describing the holiday of
Rosh Hashanah) was changed in favor of including our parshah. Our
development of its theme helps explain the change. The Torah’s treatment of
the birth of Yitzchok is inextricably linked to the manner in which Hashem
provides parnasah to Klal Yisrael. It is only in galus that we experience
the full force of this system. In that system, the contribution of Avraham
begins the process with the overtly miraculous. It transitions, however, to
the contribution of Soroh, in which the initially miraculous continues to
provide through the natural order.
1. Based on Harchev Davar, Bereishis 21:3
2. Bereishis 17:19
3. Bereishis Rabbah 53:7
4. Thus, the gemara Beitza 16A explicitly links chok with parnasah.
5. Yeshaya 51:1-3 These pesukim are part of the haftorah of Ekev, the
second of the seven readings of consolation for the destruction of the Temples.
6. Vayikra 26:11
7. Rosh Hashanah 31A